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Thursday, February 21, 2013
City semis: Brighton 63, South Boston 53

By Brendan Hall

BOSTON –- Hugh Coleman was reminded of the perceived stigma out there about his Brighton Bengals –- that despite inconsistencies, his talented group sure than flick the “on” switch in a hurry -– and the coach let out a sigh as he was asked about fourth-quarter adjustments.

“Really it was...maybe the guys had enough,” he said. “Maybe they flicked the switch, to be honest with you. I try to prepare them for a game, atmosphere, you’ve got an opportunity to do something, [they] came out slow.”

Sure, there’s probably science to explain how the Bengals came to outscore South Boston 22-10 over the final 10:12 of their Boston City Championships semifinal to prevail 63-53, last night at Madison Park High School. And perhaps the Knights, who took a brief 43-41 lead late in the third quarter, played the role of classic trap-game underdog.

Or maybe the Bengals, who will face nemesis New Mission in Thursday night’s Championship Final, had simply had enough.

“That was our fault, we didn’t come out strong,” said junior point guard Malik James, who finished with 13 points.

Said junior wing Nick Simpson, “We needed a kick in the butt.”

Leading 44-43 through three, the Bengals exploded in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter to build a comfortable cushion. First, Daivon Edwards (17 points) sank a three from the wing. That was followed by a highlight-reel fast break play from James to Nick Simpson, who slammed it home with a two-handed dunk.

Simpson then completed the 8-0 run with a heady decision deep in Southie’s end. A scrum for a rebound sent the ball rolling all the way to Brighton’s own baseline, but Simpson bent over and saved the ball with about a foot to go and kicked out to the trailer Prince Unaegbu. The 6-foot-6 bruiser stormed down the middle of the lane with heavy feet as he finished with a dunk.

Adjusting the zone: Watching the Knights repeatedly penetrate through Brighton’s extended 3-2, taking advantage of weak help-side rotation with swift dishes to the baseline, it’s almost like Southie was copying the blueprint Mahar used to deliver a shocking upset of the Bengals in last year’s Division 2 state final.

On top of that, Southie held a 29-23 advantage on the boards through the first three quarters, with forwards Phil Lodge and Solomon Abioye providing the bulk of the rebounding.

In the fourth, however, Brighton utilized a 2-3 zone set, and that seemed to patch up some holes.

“Our zone was too wide,” James said. “We weren’t closing in, we weren’t boxing out, so they would get in the gaps and get second chances. We’ve got to be tighter, and play better D.

“We’ve got to keep tighter and keep our hands up, so they know not to penetrate, and keep them off the boards.”

Downtown woes: The Bengals attempted a whopping 18 three-pointers in the first half, making just five of them – four coming from Edwards, who would finish 5-of-14 from long distance.

With marksmen like Edwards, Simpson and Mark Mojica, Coleman isn’t afraid to give them the green light from downtown. Still, they were all too eager at times to put up a shot early in the clock, rather than work for an open look with some cuts and screens. It all added up to a dismal showing, taking a 30-21 lead into the break but feeling like they left a lot of points off the board.

“Aw man,” James said when told of the team’s totals on three’s (7 of 28). “Our team just loves shooting threes for some reason. Coach always stresses getting in the paint, so for me to attack, attack, and he always wants us to get it into our big men more. But everybody just loves shooting three-pointers.”

If there’s benefit of the doubt, it’s that the Madidome is a notoriously-unfriendly confine for many a shooter. Coleman is a veteran of the legendary gym, from his days starring at Charlestown in the mid-90’s to men’s league games in present day, and can tell you a thing or two about what it’s like to play there.

“I’ll be honest with you, when I play in Madison myself in men’s leagues, for me I feel it’s a tough shooting gym,” Coleman said. “The only person I know that can shoot well in the gym is [former Charlestown star] Paul Becklens. Maybe the rims are tight, it’s a bigger space, feels different.

“And I’m trying to get my guys to understand: when we struggle, try to get to the basket, try to get some easy ones. Sometimes we settle a little bit too much.”

Historic first: Brighton will face its nemesis New Mission for the City Championship on Thursday night. Its an historic first for both programs, neither of which has ever won a city title, and it’s also quite the anomaly for the league itself. For the first time since 2000, when Raheim Lamb led Boston English to a title en route to the MIAA Division 1 state final, there will be a City Champion from neither Charlestown, East Boston or Madison Park.

For all of the talk about Mission’s moxie, it’s the Bengals that are arguably in the Titans’ head right now. Brighton has won five straight over Mission; the last time the Titans won in this rivalry was March 2011, when they slipped by Brighton 55-53 in the D2 North final en route to their second straight state title.

In the latest installment, late last month, New Mission held a 20-point fourth quarter lead only to watch it evaporate in six minutes, in one of the more surreal comebacks of this high school basketball season.

As usual, we expect sparks to fly when these two charismatic, energetic coaches –- who maintain a friendly relationship off the court –- get together on the same court.