Boston High School: Anthony Manzello

Recap: No. 25 SPM 74, No. 19 Charlestown 66

January, 13, 2013

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.”

Pentucket, D3 girls hoop, not to be treaded lightly

January, 8, 2013
Some thoughts and observations from the first week of MIAA basketball in 2013:

Guardians on a roll –- again: Just when you thought St. Peter-Marian was done, ready to be written off as a one-year wonder, the Guardians come out swinging again. Sunday’s 54-49 upset of Catholic Memorial wasn’t glamorous, but it’s the program’s biggest win since trouncing Charlestown 61-46 some 12 months ago.

(That game, for those unfamiliar, ended up leading Charlestown coach Edson Cardoso to scrap their man-to-man defense altogether. The result was a Division 1 North title)

The Guardians have snuck under the radar for the first half of the 2012-13 season, and for good reason. After graduating stars Steve Flynn, Tre Watson, Brian Foley or ESPN Boston All-Stater Matt Mobley, there were questions abound in the talent department. Make no mistake, there’s no superstars in this year’s squad, but it’s a unit head coach Marcus Watson is very satisfied with, led by a senior-laden starting five of Tim Berry, Kevin Riley, Jaylen Ashton, Terrence Watson and Anthony Manzello.

“We’re fine with that, we don’t want to be ranked,” Watson said. “We just go out and battle. You look at us one-on-one, there’s not one kid you look at and say, ‘He’s a stud’. Yet if you look at us collectively they all do their job, they take charges, they box out. We’ve got absolutely no outside interference this year.”

CM figured to be rusty out of the gates, but caught fire in its 7-0 start with the emergence of sophomore shooting guard Giulien Smith (26 points per game). Not only did the Guardians keep him a non-factor, holding him to four points, but they mirrored the Knights’ vaunted 2-2-1 press with some of their own wrinkles added in, giving some man and diamond-and-one variants as well.

It’s a faster pace, a higher intensity of playing style, but it’s one Watson feels his team is conditioned for after a rigorous offseason. Players went through some dynamic strength training over the offseason, among the highlights in typical sessions: one-legged box drills; wrapping 45-pound plates in towels and pushing them the length of the floor; suicides on hills; wheelbarrow runs the length of the court, ending with pushups; all of it sprinkled over with deadlifts, calf raises, pull-downs, and two-mile runs.

The Guardians come into our poll this week at No. 25, its first appearance since the final 2011-12 poll, but tonight’s litmus test against rival St. John’s of Shrewsbury will give us a better measurement of where they’re at right now. The progress of underclassmen such as Connor Brown, Mike Boateng, George Anan and freshman Makai Ashton-Langford will be key, but they have shown great strides this first half of the season.

“We’re not even close to peaking, hopefully we just want to get better,” Marcus Watson said. “The kids believe in each other. They’ve never been a problem as a team, they all know their role. You can see them getting on each other, they all know what they’re supposed to be doing. We call them our ‘Fab Five’ -– not one of them is a stud, but they all do their job.”

Nobody’s yawning at Division 3: Interesting comments from Pentucket coach John McNamara following the Sachems’ 59-39 defeat of Billerica last Wednesday, saying flatly “We get tired of hearing we’re a D3 school. We can play with anybody. D3’s can play with anybody, there’s a lot of good teams.”

If that’s truly the whisper going around Eastern Mass., then it’s a circumventing one. With the Sachems’ win over the Indians, that will put three D3 squads in the top five of’s girls basketball poll: Archbishop Williams (3), St. Mary’s of Lynn (4) and the aforementioned Sachems (5). Say what you want about the dominance of Braintree in D1 and Reading in D2 – and at the end of the day, D1 has the most depth – but the teams atop D3 can hang with anyone. I don’t think that’s an axiom.

Pentucket has a slew of quality shooters this year, but as usual it’s defense that’s the calling card. It starts with 6-foot senior Tess Nogueira, whom McNamara feels is underrated for her talents. It’s plausible to see why – she doesn’t fit into a natural position on the floor, and doesn’t always light up the scoreboard – but suffice it to say she’s one of the state’s better defenders.

“She’s a unique player for a six-footer,” McNamara said. “She’s not a natural post player, but she can do anything. She can defend the point if we want her to, but unfortunately we don’t have any other bigs. If we press, we put her at the top of the press [and] she’s long and lanky and quick, with great habits.”

In the Sachems’ 2-2-1 and diamond-and-one press looks, it’s often Nogueira that comes flying up the floor to trap. With her length, and he tenaciousness, she can create some havoc out there.

“We have had her cover point guards, if we have other matchups we think we can survive, we’ll put her our front, or if we do a zone press we’ll put her at the point,” McNamara said. “She’s got good instincts, she’s long, lanky, makes good decisions on doubling and when not to double.

“She’s one of what I think the most unsung players in the state, because she doesn’t score 20 points a game. She does a lot of other things.”

Miscellaneous: One of the more interesting stats has be Hockomock League newcomer Milford. Off to a 7-0 start, the Scarlet Hawks sit atop the Davenport division and lead the league in team scoring at 70 points per game. Yet not one player sits in the top five in league scoring average. ... We’ve mentioned New Mission, Brighton, Wakefield and North Andover as heavyweight favorites in Division 2 North. Perhaps we’ve found a sleeper in Lynn Classical, which sits at 4-5 overall but with a two-point Everett loss, overtime St. John’s Prep loss, and a win over Lynn English on its resume. Keep an eye on the Brown brothers, senior Jalen and junior Jordan.