Boston High School: Barry Connors

NEPSAC AA: Cushing 76, Kimball Union 68

March, 2, 2014
Mar 2
11:39
PM ET
BEVERLY, Mass. -- This time, there was no doubt.

After defeating the St. Andrew’s School on a last second buzzer beater by Jalen Adams to win the 2013 NEPSAC Class AA Championship, some were left wondering whether Cushing Academy was a legitimate champion.

The Penguins answered all those questions and doubts Sunday by defeating Kimball Union (N.H.), 76-68, to win back-to-back Class AA championships.

“When you win it on a buzzer beater, there’s always those questions about did you get lucky? Was it a fluke? Did you deserve to win?” said Cushing coach Barry Connors. “The guys in the locker room know of course we did. You come back and win it again, and it sort of validates the first one. It feels even better this time than last year.”

This game featured future college basketball stars on both teams.

Kimball Union’s Abdul-Malik Abu, the No. 32 senior prospect on the ESPN 100, is signed to play at North Carolina State next season. Oliver Tot (9 points, 12 rebounds) will take his talents to William and Mary next year.

Cushing Academy’s Kaleb Joseph, the No. 49 recruit on the ESPN 100, is going to Syracuse to play for coach Jim Boeheim. Jalen Adams, currently the No. 46 junior in the ESPN 60, holds scholarship offers from Division 1 schools such as UConn, Creighton, and Providence.

The Penguins were able to keep Abu in check for the first half, holding him to only four points. In the second half, he was more assertive on the low block. He used his positioning and his muscular frame to out jump the Cushing bigs for rebounds and second-chance points. The senior finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds.

KUA went on a 9-2 run in the last two minutes of the first half to make the score 37-36. In what became a theme of the game, Cushing’s Connor Gilmore (12 points, 5 rebounds) hit a three before the buzzer.

Gilmore was also charged with defending Abu in the low block for most of the game. The senior held his own for most of the game, but when you are playing against a player like Abu that likes to draw contact, the fouls are bound to pile up. That was the case Sunday as he fouled out of the game with 7:51 remaining.

“He and Aaron Todd (2 points, 4 rebounds) did a tremendous job on the block fighting with Abu,” said Connors. “He’s averaging about 14 points a game for us over the course of the season, but the last 8 games he’s averaging 17 and 10 and he’s been hitting big shots for us.”

Cushing came out with a 12-5 run to open the second half and Kimball was playing catchup from that point on. The closest it cut the deficit to was 63-59 with 4:40 remaining.

A minute later, Abu fouled Adams (16 points, 7 rebounds) as he was going to the basket and was Kimball’s 10th team foul. For the rest of the game, he and Joseph (22 points, 6 rebounds) were at the free throw line extending the team’s lead. The two guards scored their way to a second league championship.

“I think this time around was better because this team got a feeling of what it was like to win,” said Joseph. “Me, Jalen, and Idris Taqqee knew what it was like to win a championship. We knew it wasn’t going to be that easy this year. We had more bumps in the road this year. We fought through it and that’s why it feels a lot better this time.”

Taqqee shines: Lost behind the statistics of future ACC players and future high-major commits was the play of Cushing’s Idris Taqqee. The St. Bonaventure commit dominated the first half of the game, scoring 16 of his 20 points in the opening frame while the defense was focused on stopping Joseph and Adams. He was hitting shots from all over the floor, including two from behind the three-point arc.

In the second half, his production quieted down while Adams and Joseph had the ball in their hands more as the game wound down.

“Idris is the consummate glue guy,” said Connors. “But how many glue guys are 6-foot-5 athletic studs? You see he’s starting to stretch it out a little bit. He’s knocking down three’s and handling the ball a little more. He’s the heart and soul and he sets the tone.”

Midway through the first half, he had 14 of Cushing’s 23 points. He also came down with five rebounds in the game, showing he’s not just a scorer.

“He has a will to win, he’s willing to do a lot of the things no one else is willing to do,” said Joseph. “He’s down there fighting with Malik Abu on the block and then he comes out on the perimeter and can hit jump shots. He’s really versatile. He’s kind of our unsung hero.”

NEPSAC: Crowns for Brewster, Cushing, Exeter

March, 4, 2013
3/04/13
1:14
AM ET
BEVERLY, Mass. -— It was a day firsts, of clutch performances by star players, and of tears induced by heartbreaking losses and emotional victories. NEPSAC championship Sunday at Endicott College was everything to be expected—and much, much more.

Champions were crowned in the AAA, AA and A classes Sunday afternoon at Endicott, with no shortage of action:

Cushing wins on a buzzer-beater: St. Andrew’s seemed to have completed the upset, but Jalen Adams simply couldn’t let that happen.

Heaving up a jumpshot from just over halfcourt with no time left on the regulation clock, Adams banked the shot in from off the glass, giving Cushing the 61-60 victory. It was just another on the list of feats that the sophomore guard has accomplished already over the course of his young career.

“But I’ve never hit a buzzer-beater before,” he said with an ear-to-ear grin. “When I shot it, I honestly didn’t think it was going to go in.”

It wouldn’t be the first time Adams, who was awarded Most Valuable Player, hit a halfcourt shot, though. In practice Cushing practices a drill where they take shots from different spots on the floor—one of those spots, of course, is from the halfcourt line.

“Jalen Adams has hit more halfcourt shots just goofing around in a team game, than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Cushing coach Barry Connors said. “Was it a wing and a prayer? No question. But hey, I’ll tell you what, he made the shot.”

St. Andrew’s trailed 33-28 at halftime, but came out on an absolute tear in the second half—beginning the half on an 8-0 run that gave them their first lead of the game with fourteen minutes to go. Cushing’s forward Andrew Chrabascz, a Butler signee, picked up his fourth foul with still ten minutes to go in the game. Connors put Chrabascz back in a few minutes later, and with his help, Cushing managed to diminish their deficit.

“I can save Andrew, or you go with what you’ve got, you go with who got you there," Connors said. "The interesting thing about Andrew is: yeah he had four fouls. On the fourth one, he made a bonehead play, but Andrew’s very, very smart. If anybody can play with four fouls, it’s Andrew Chrabascz."

Down eleven points with three minutes left in the game, the Penguins rode Adams and Chrabascz to the win. Adams hit a tough jumper to bring the game within six with under two minutes to go. Adams fed Chrabascz with six seconds left in the game, and Chrabascz finished a tough lay-up inside to bring Cushing to within 60-58. Cushing fouled immediately, and following a missed free throw by Bonzie Colson (16 points, 8 rebounds), Adams took the ball to halfcourt and won the game.

“If I was going to lose this game, I was going to lose with my five best guys on the floor,” Connors said.

Historic first for Exeter: For the first time in school history, Phillips Exeter captured the Class A crown, knocking off Choate Rosemary Hall 58-47 in the opening game of the day. Exeter’s remarkable 25-1 season has been a long journey, one that started last June when the players on the predominantly-postgrad squad met for the first time on the front steps of Exeter’s gym. A group of players who, for the most part had never met before, quickly realized that they all had a lot in common.

“We had guys who had just met for the first time -- we talked about our individual goals, and we realized we were all at Exeter for our own personal agendas," Exeter coach Jay Tilton said. "Because why else would you come here as a postgrad if you didn’t have them?”

Thanks in part to strong leadership by captains Harry Rafferty (Wesleyan College) and Chris Braley (Stony Brook), a culture of change was started at Exeter—a culture that quickly became contagious to the rest of the team. Good friends off the court, Rafferty and Braley, who along with Duncan Robinson played AAU together for Middlesex Magic, brought Exeter a mixed blend of leadership by toughness, and leadership by example.

Braley, a soft-spoken workhorse known for his incredible work ethic, set an example for the rest of the team of how to compose themselves, while Rafferty, a scrappy ‘in your face’ type of point guard, was the quarterback.

“Chris demands so much respect because of his work ethic and his integrity, he’s not a real emotional guy or anything like that...He just does it," Tilton said. "With Harry, he’s the guy who’s going to run the show from day one. He’s the most caring kid, and the best communicator I’ve ever coached.

Tilton added, with a laugh, "He’s about the only one out there who’s not afraid of Braley.”

Six-foot-7 forward Robinson, the tournament MVP, put on what may have been the most impressive individual performance of the tournament, finishing with 24 points and 11 rebounds and playing as close to a perfect game as one possibly can -— knocking down five 3-pointers and shooting 9-for-9 from the field. Robinson’s show was the cherry on top of an unprecedented season by Exeter, who earlier in the day met on the front steps of their gym to discuss their goals one last time before departing for the championship game.

“We just kind of knew we had already reached that. That’s why I’m so proud of this group of kids. This group will hold a special place in Exeter history,” Tilton said.

Tilton admitted it is also a team that will hold a special place in his own memory, too. The teary-eyed veteran coach embraced each one of his players after the game, including his star forward.

“He said he loved me, and I said it right back, he’s done so much for all of us, myself included,” Robinson said, “To do that for him -- I know he wanted it very, very badly. He’s the hardest-working coach I’ve ever played for. He loves his players and cares about each and every one of us. It was only right that we did it for him.”

Exeter’s tremendous defensive effort held a very good shooting Choate team to just 4-15 from behind the three-point line. Future Wisconsin guard Jordan Hill was the catalyst; with long arms, a hard-nosed defensive mentality, and quick feet, Hill constantly harassed Choate guards Colin Richey (10 points) and Pete Weston (15 points).

“It starts with Jordan,” Tilton pointed out, “every second of the game he has a high motor, he doesn’t take unnecessary chances. To play that hard on the ball—he starts it, and we have great commitment off the ball helping him. It’s something we’ve been committed to from day one.”

Brewster takes AAA title in a thriller: Martez Harrison was one of the top scorers in the nation last year, averaging 35 points per game at University Academy Charter in Missouri. On Sunday in the Class AAA championship game though, he showed his complete ability to play the point guard position—leading Brewster to a thrilling 77-75 victory.

“Martez is the kid on our team who definitely has the biggest heart, he’s a true leader," Brewster coach Jason Smith said. "The growth and improvement from a point guard’s perspective from September until now has been phenomenal. He’s not really in the limelight, but we don’t win without him controlling the tempo, making good decisions, and making the right plays.”

Harrison, who finished with 14 points, shared the spotlight with future West Virginia forward Elijah Macon -- who was fresh off a heroic performance against Northfield Mount Hermon on Friday night. Finishing with 15 points and 12 rebounds in the finals, Macon, Brewster’s sixth-man, took home tournament MVP.

“[At the] beginning of the year...Elijah knew we were having a difficult time with whether we should play all three of the bigs together," Smith said.n "Or who was going to come off the bench. Elijah was the one who volunteered, he’s very mature for an 18 year old kid.”

Macon and N.C. State-bound forward Kyle Washington each picked up their fourth foul about midway through the second half, but Smith said the foul trouble did little to hinder his team in terms of gameplanning and substitutions.

“We were going to play Elijah his normal rotation of four and a half minutes," Smith said. "It just worked out well, Kyle picked up his fourth foul initially, and the substitution pattern worked out perfectly. Four fouls never really even came into play, it was just subbing in four minute intervals when needed.”

Gabe Levin and Marquise Moore each had 20 points for St. Thomas More, who was the top seed in the tournament thanks to very strong guard play and great preparation from long-time coach Jere Quinn.

“Anytime that you can beat a Jere Quinn coached-teams in the finals, it’s something that you have to work very hard for,” Smith said. “His teams are always very well-prepared, they don’t beat themselves, they don’t make mistakes. We could have caved in when we were down, but we persevered, we got stops when we needed to and we found a way.”

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