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Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Canton pays tribute to OA's Ness with shoelaces

By Brendan Hall

Notes, thoughts and observations from around the MIAA basketball landscape:

TOUCHING TRIBUTE FROM CANTON
None of the Canton boys basketball players directly knew Devin Ness, the Oliver Ames wrestler who died suddenly the morning of Jan. 25 from an aneurysm. But they knew those OA players, who were set to visit the Bulldogs this past Tuesday for a Hockomock League matchup, were playing with heavy -– no, devastated -– hearts, many of them friends with Ness.

The sudden death of Ness, who captained the wrestling team, sent shockwaves across the town of Easton and its surrounding communities. But just knowing what the Oliver Ames athletics program was going through was enough for the Canton players to approach head coach Ryan Gordy about paying tribute during their Jan. 29 meeting, just four days after the death.

It was a simple idea, but it said a lot. Volunteer assistant Pat Frazier went out to the Nike store at Wrenthm Outlets and purchased a load of orange shoelaces, which the players all wore during the game, a 60-49 OA win.

“At the end of the day, high school sports is a great venue, a unique venue to showcase something like that, something so important and so close to home for the Oliver Ames community,” Gordy said. “We got a little too much attention for it, but that’s not why we did it. We’re rivals, Canton and Oliver Ames, but at the end of the day when you talk about someone’s life, basketball is such a small thing. That’s what I wanted to point out. We’re all just student-athletes here.”

The feedback from the OA community was very warm, with OA head coach Don Byron expressing his gratitude for “being class acts”, and OA principal Thomas Flanagan sending over an email to Gordy, the administration and athletic department with thanks.

“It was a teachable moment, to be able to sit down with the kids and talk about the value of sportsmanship,” Gordy said. “You want to go out and beat guys, but anything to do with life or death trumps any athletic venue. That’s something unique bout sports. It’s a unique venue to showcase sportsmanship and respect. It was just a teachable moment.”

KNIGHT RIDERS
North Andover’s thrilling upset over Central Catholic last week was wild for a multitude of reasons. For one, the Scarlet Knights trailed by 18 with four minutes left in the third quarter. For another, Derek Collins sank a half-court buzzer-beater to end the stanza. And perhaps crazier than all, the Knights’ 6-foot-5 senior post, Isaiah Nelsen, threw up a 30-footer as the shot clock buzzed with about a minute left to give NA the lead for good.

This marks the Knights’ first win over Central Catholic since the 1986 Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament, and it’s the program’s first win over a team ranked No. 1. The Raiders at the time were a unanimous selection at No. 1 in virtually every reputable Eastern Mass. poll, as well as ESPNBoston.com’s statewide poll.

“It was a real good win, and the fact that those sweet words you just said – No. 1, we’ve never won versus No. 1 in the state, so certainly it’s right up there,” head coach Mike McVeigh said on where the win ranks in his long, illustrious career on the NA sideline. “Sometimes there are games that bring you to the next level, and you can never dismiss those. I’ve had some wonderful young men make some big shots, and certainly this is one of the best.”

There were obviously a lot of things that went the Knights’ way, but an emphasis on rebounding paid off immensely over the final 12 minutes. The Knights went a little bit more man-to-man in the last third of the game (some coaches will tell you rebounding is easier in man than zone), with Nelsen drawing Central’s frenetic energy ball Doug Gemmell down low, and were terrific on switches.

“There’s certainly technique in rebounding, but a lot just has to do with attitude, whether offensive or defensive,” McVeigh said. “We understood if we going to get back into the game we couldn’t give them second chance opportunities, and I don’t think we gave them those in the second half.”

NEW MISSION LOSES A VICTORY
At times, New Mission coach Cory McCarthy makes the headlines for his outspokenness as often as his team does for its relentless, physical defensive pressure. This was certainly the case following Thursday’s loss to Brighton, in which the Titans coughed away a 20-point fourth quarter lead in a matter of six minutes.

McCarthy was calm and subdued following the loss, tipping his cap to Hugh Coleman’s squad for a terrific job, but also declaring his squad is still among the best in the state. McCarthy was also disappointed with the recent ruling from the Boston City League that strips the Titans of one of their wins this season. Boston Public Schools Athletic Director Ken Still confirmed to ESPNBoston.com that Madison Park has officially been awarded a forfeit win over New Mission in their Jan. 8 meeting, over the use of an ineligible player.

They ruled that because senior Isshiah Coleman picked up a second foul in the Titans’ win over East Boston two days prior, for hanging on the rim, he should have had to sit the next game.

Speaking to ESPNBoston.com following the Brighton loss, McCarthy was peeved.

“He [Coleman] wasn’t ejected or anything like that, there was nothing done on him or anything like that,” McCarthy said. “I called the athletic department, I said I’ve got a kid with two techs and was told by the assigners that those were administrative techs and he could play the next game.

“I play him, then they send out an email saying [he shouldn’t have played]. So they said, ‘Hey, it’s OK if you can play him’, and then after that they changed their minds. It only happens to New Mission. We’re the only team that doesn’t get supported or defended.”

With the forfeit loss, the Titans currently sit at 10-5, in second place in the Boston City League’s top-tier “A” division. After Madison, Mission’s only other in-state losses are twice to Brighton, who have now swept the heated season series two years in a row.

THE CASE FOR NO. 1
After we unveiled Mansfield as the new No. 1 in our statewide boys’ basketball poll yesterday afternoon, some of my followers from St. John’s Prep presented their case via Twitter for why their deserves the top slot over the Hornets. The crux of their argument was the Eagles’ strength of schedule, which got me thinking -– yes, the Eagles have some very impressive wins, but is it really superior to Mansfield’s resume?

With the help of some mathematics, here’s the head-to-head tale of the tape:

Common opponents: Prep and Mansfield are a combined 3-0 against one common opponent – BC High, with Prep taking two of the wins.

Total opponents: Headed into Tuesday night’s slate of games, Mansfield’s opponents are a combined 103-88; nearly one-third of that loss total comes from two teams, King Philip (3-12) and North Attleborough (2-13). Prep’s opponents are a combined 100-82, with four of those opponents currently boasting 11 wins or more.

Quality wins: This can often be a subjective stat, so first let’s go solely on wins over opponents with a record above .500 (which means we’re leaving out Prep’s win over the walking, talking enigma that is 6-10 Charlestown). By this definition, Prep has seven “quality wins” –- Lynn Classical (twice), BC High (twice), Catholic Memorial (twice) and Central Catholic (13-3). Mansfield also has seven such wins -– Sharon, BC High, Amityville (N.Y.), Oliver Ames, Taunton, Franklin and Foxborough.

Breaking that down further, let’s take a look at how many of those “quality win” opponents were ranked in ESPNBoston.com’s poll, either currently or at previous points in the season. Mansfield has three -– BC High, Taunton and Franklin. Prep also has three – BC High, Catholic Memorial, and Central Catholic -– but if you throw in 6-10 Charlestown (which ranked as high as No. 15 in late December), that’s four.

Losses: Each team has one loss. Mansfield took a six-point loss over the Holiday break to New Mission, currently ranked No. 12 in our poll. Two Sundays ago, Prep took a surprise 13-point loss to Waltham, which was good enough to debut the Hawks at No. 23 in last week’s poll, a position they’ve since abdicated (Waltham currently sits in our “Last 10 out” of the poll).

As you can see, a case can certainly be made for Prep at the No. 1 spot. However, the strength of schedule argument can often be a deceptive one, because Mansfield’s numbers in that department are somewhat even in comparison.

MISCELLANEOUS
Yesterday, the MIAA reversed its January decision to ban all Gardner High winter sports teams from postseason, following an apology from Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke, who chairs the school committee and had previously made several comments to the media publicly insulting the MIAA. That should come as good news to Gardner’s girls basketball squad, which at 8-5 needs just two wins in seven games to quality for the Division 2 Central tournament, starting with archrival Oakmont tonight ... One Eastern Mass. coach on Mount Greylock junior guard Tyrell Thomas, who has been on a tear in Western Mass. as of late: “He is a slashing guard who can really score at the rim. He has decent perimeter skills, but he is better when he gets out in transition. Wiry strong and a hard worker, you definitely know when he is scoring because most of his drives to the basket have a high degree of diffuculty." The Mounties ventured to the Boston area for two games over the Holiday break, losing to both Ashland and Wayland, and figure to be a favorite in Division 3 West.