PAXTON, Mass. -– Add this one to the growing list of games St. Peter-Marian wasn’t supposed to win.
The underdog Guardians’ second half run earned them a 74-66 over a bigger, more talented, and more athletic Charlestown squad, before a capacity crowd at Anna Maria College. This is St. Peter-Marian’s third win over a top 25 opponent in the last six days, a feat no other team in the state has accomplished at any point this year.
Junior Connor Brown shot the lights out for St. Peter-Marian, knocking down five threes on his way to 22 points. In moving to 9-1 overall, Brown is the Guardians’ fourth different leading scorer this season.
Charlestown dominated early on in this one. Taris Wilson got to the rim nearly at will off the dribble, Kevin Williams nailed three first-half treys, and Freddy Oliviera got some buckets off of his patented low post spin move. The Townies pressured SPM’s guards via a 1-2-1-1 diamond press, and were able to get several buckets in transition early in the first half off of turnovers.
However, the Guardians adjusted at halftime, and Brown capitalized in the third quarter, hitting a couple of treys and leading SPM back from a 32-27 halftime deficit.
Role players get it done: Kevin Riley put in some hard work defensively in the first half, but made his presence felt offensively in the second half, scoring 12 points in the half and finishing with 15 in all. On three separate occasions he scored on double backscreens by the Guardians’ big men.
Senior captain Anthony Manzello, who was the hero on Wednesday against St. John’s, assisted on two of those baskets with pinpoint passes. It was an offensive boost that the Guardians needed, as Charlestown made a fierce run late in the fourth quarter.
“It’s my favorite play, Manzello is a great passer," Riley said. "We’ve been playing together so long, he just knows how to catch me on the backside.”
Six-foot-4 junior Sean Sweeney also performed well off the bench for the Guardians, rebounding and giving Berry a rest in the second half. The St. Peter-Marian crowd erupted in the fourth quarter when Sweeney caught the ball in the open floor, and put in an acrobatic lay-up after going by Oliviera and taking a whack to the head from Allijah Robinson.
Makai Ashton-Langford continued to show why he’s one of the area’s most talented freshmen. At one point in the second half the talented point guard came in and scored two consecutive and one lay-ups.
“Makai’s a freshman and he plays with poise beyond his years," Guardians coach Marcus Watson said, with a laugh. "He’s just aggressive. I basically tell him: make your mistakes and I’m going to live with them, But as you can see, he’s pretty good.”
Free throw woes: St. Peter-Marian missed 17 free throws in their thrilling win over St. John’s, and it was a stat that Watson was disappointed about, emphasizing to his team in practice this week that in general they need to become a better free throw shooting team. The Guardians went 16-of-22 from the line tonight, but Watson says improvement can still be made.
“According to this I’m still not happy,” he said as he looked down at the scorebook. “After our last game, our free throw shooting looked horrendous, so we just spent a practice shooting foul shots. I gave them the day off the day after we beat St. John’s, and then on Thursday they came in and they shot free throws for the first 45 minutes of practice. It paid its dividends.”
The Townies may want to take a similar approach going into Wednesday’s showdown with city league rival Madison Park. Charlestown shot 17-30 from the free throw line against St. Peter-Marian. Despite the missed free throws, though, Charlestown coach Edson Cardoso was encouraged by the performance by his team going up against a St. Peter-Marian squad that is one of the scrappiest in the state.
“I think this will be a turning point, cause we’re playing the type of style that we played last year," he said. "I saw spurts of that tonight. We missed thirteen free throws, maybe more...we’re a team that usually can average in the 80’s. It’s going to take some work, but I think we’ll be ready to play Madison based on the turning point of tonight.”
Beating the press: Both teams broke out similar diamond, 1-2-1-1 full court presses. Watson scouted the Townies earlier in the week, and decided to press Charlestown full based on the fact that he expected the Boston City League power to do likewise.
“[The press] just opened everything up," Watson said. "We know teams that press don’t like to be pressed, so we tried to sprinkle that in a little bit. I’m very happy with our defense.”
On the other side of the ball, beating the press was key for Brown, who benefited from several open looks coming out of the Guardians’ press break. He knocked down his first three attempts from outside in the first half, and added two more threes in the third quarter.
“We’re a scrappy bunch, we just kind of go out and try and hit the open man," Brown said. "Whoever gets the ball, we trust them to do what’s right. They were pressing; I just kind of went to the open spots. My teammates found me, and I hit open shots. That’s all it comes down to.”
Statement Win: The Guardians knocked off the state’s 17th, 18th, and 19th ranked teams in the last six days, and their brutal schedule doesn’t get much easier next week, taking on a pair of talented Division 3 teams in Whitinsville Christian and Hopedale, both teams are 8-1. As mentioned, beating three ranked teams in a week span had yet to be done this year, so in doing so St. Peter-Marian sent quite a message to the rest of the state, and they know it:
“I think it proves that Central Mass. basketball can compete. Not to say that we’re going to beat everyone, but we just want to show that we can compete, and that we aren’t going to run from anybody,” Watson said. “There’s a lot of quality teams in Central Mass. I really wanted to challenge my kids this year. I’m pretty pleased with my kids.”
Brown said the wins add a lot of confidence for the Guardians going forward, as they still have plenty of tough teams left to face on their schedule.
“It feels awesome, playing all these teams from Eastern Mass. Coach tells us that we’re not going to back down ever. It’s just a great team win, we executed great on offense,” he said.
“It’s great, we come out and play these teams, nobody thinks we have a shot, and we just try to prove everybody wrong. Good team win, someone new shows up every night, you never know.”