BOSTON -- When Isshiah Coleman made not one, but two big blocks as the seconds ticked off the clock in the second quarter, it brought a smile to New Mission head coach Cory McCarthy’s face.
Actually it did a little bit more than that.
“For a quick second I felt like a kid,” said McCarthy. “I wanted to cheer like the crowd.”
The excitement was probably half about the play from his sophomore center and half about the return of the gritty defense that his team has showed all season long.
New Mission (21-4) stifled Hopkinton (20-4) in the fourth quarter, after watching the Hillers go 10-of-17 from the field in the first half, in its 67-56 victory in the Div. 2 Eastern Mass. state semifinals on Tuesday night at the TD Garden.
McCarthy switched Kachi Nzerem onto Barrett Hanlon (13 points) to take away some of the dribble penetration that worked in the first half, and the Hillers were held to 2-for-10 from behind the 3-point line in the second half, while only managing 23 points in the final two quarters of play.
“Taking away the baseline off good penetration and blocking shots really made them indecisive as to whether to shoot the three or penetrate. … We used that aggression that we have as a team,” said McCarthy.
Darius Davis, who assigned to take away the Hillers’ deep threat Wesley Ericksen, made a come-from-behind block on Hanlon to keep the Titans up by two possessions. Nzerem, who scored 21 points to lead the Titans, tipped home his own miss and canned one of his three 3-pointers to give New Mission its biggest lead of the game, 57-48.
The Titans did a good job of getting their hand in the passing lane throughout the fourth quarter, and Charles Gunter’s quick hands led to a loud Coleman dunk on the other end that felt like the game-winner with about three minutes to go in the game.
“The beginning of the game we were trying to feel them out,” said Gunter. “Coach told us they like to get out and run, and that’s what they were doing. We had to stop that or we were going to take the loss.”
If there was anyone who optimized the type of scrappy, all-around game that McCarthy preaches at New Mission, then it was Samir McDaniels. The 6-foot-4-inch senior finished with 13 points, 15 rebounds and five steals.
McCarthy holds his senior leader to a high standard, and he was happy to see his senior turn it on when needed.
“I didn’t know Samir was playing in the first half,” said McCarthy. “But in the second half he showed up. He played the husky, tough, rough-and-tumble basketball that we like and that we always preach about.
“We are tough, and we can be tougher than anybody when it gets down to it.”
McDaniels did a number on the offensive glass in the second half with six offensive rebounds, with five of those coming in the third quarter alone.
“We have been working on boxing out all week, matter fact all tournament,” said McDaniels. “We have been getting out rebounded by smaller players, so we just had to make sure we were boxing out.”
The Titans held a 14-rebound advantage for the game, including a 17-7 edge on the offensive glass.
“The second-chance points was a huge difference,” said Hillers’ coach Tom Keane. “We played pretty strong defense, but then we couldn’t finish it. We couldn’t clean it up and get the rebounds.”