BEVERLY, Mass. -- On paper, No. 5 seed Maine Central Institute shouldn’t have been able to stay with No. 1 Brewster Academy in this NEPSAC Class AAA semifinal.
The Huskies had the misfortune of dealing with a handful of Bobcats all set to attend high Div. 1 college basketball programs next season -- including Kansas, Pittsburgh, St. John’s and Villanova.
Plus, recent history wasn’t on MCI’s side, as the Bobcats claimed all three meetings between the two teams this season.
But from all those losses, the Huskies learned a few things and turned the outcome in their favor with a big 87-68 victory over Brewster in the first of two Class AAA semifinals on Friday night at the Post Center, on the campus of Endicott College.
MCI advances to the finals against New Hampton on Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Post Center.
“Both teams knew each other real well,” Huskies head coach Dave Campbell said. “It was just a matter of one team playing better than the other (tonight).”
Adrian Rogers had 20 points and eight rebounds off the bench to lead four Huskies in double figures. Campbell’s team also shot a near perfect 19-of-20 from the free throw line -- a place where the Huskies shoot greater than 70 percent from for the season.
The two teams exchanged the lead 10 times in the first moments of the first half, but the Huskies were able to take control of the pace of the game and hold the Bobcats (30-2) to seven points over the final eight minutes of the opening stanza.
Khristian Smith's loud baseline dunk gave the Huskies a 25-20 lead, and MCI would stretch that advantage to 39-27 by the break.
Jakarr Sampson scored 13 of his 19 points in the second half for the Bobcats, and his put-back got the Bobcats to an eight-point deficit.
But that’s as close as Brewster would come in the second half.
Every time the Bobcats could get a head of steam going in the transition game in the second half the Huskies would hold their opponents to long stretches without a basket and strike back to tack on to the lead.
“We executed our game plan to a T,” said Campbell. “We didn’t turn the ball over, we rebounded the ball well and we didn’t give them a lot of transition baskets.”
The Bobcats cut the lead to nine on an Elijah Carter bucket off an offensive rebound, but they would be held to four points over the next four-plus minutes of play. The Huskies went on an 11-4 run over that period, highlighted by six points from Smith and a thunderous dunk in transition by Rogers.
“We have kids going off to the highest levels and a lot of times they might think that they just have to show up and they are going to win the game,” said Bobcats’ head coach Jason Smith. “There’s that old saying that it’s hard to beat a team three times in a year. I think it’s even harder to beat a time four times in a year.”
SHORTER, FASTER, STRONGER
--MCI faced a serious height disadvantage across the frontline, but were able to win the rebounding battle 31-27 with a smaller, swifter lineup.
Several times in the first half, a Husky guard would knife through the defense and come away with a loose ball in traffic to extend possessions and keep the run-and-gun ways of the Bobcats in check.
“We had to have all five people rebound the ball at times,” said Campbell. “When they didn’t box out we got rebounds and we were able to make them run the clock and make them play defense.”
“The last few times we didn’t do a good job of that,” said the 6-foot-6-inch Khristian Smith (15 points), who gave away three inches to Mitch McGary and Markus Kennedy on the inside. “Rebounding it was five against three, so I feel like we did a good against them.”
The smaller lineup also worked harder to make sure the Bobcats’ big men couldn’t get the ball in good positions in the post, which in turn led to the Bobcats’ inability to get enough space to let the shooters get off open looks.
“The ball movement kind of turns into a NBA game where we are trying to isolate people,” said Jason Smith, whose team will move on to the National Prep Championship tournament next week at Albertus Magnus College. “The ball movement needs to improve.”