DORCHESTER, Mass. -- Since the matchup was first announced last summer, basketball fans of all levels all around the greater Boston area had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Jersey City powerhouse St. Anthony to the Kroc Center, to take on rising Boston power New Mission.
Tonight in front a packed house, and greeted pre-game by a performance from local hip-hop artist Moufy, the much-anticipated game -- the nightcap of the first day of the first annual Shooting Touch Shootout -- had arrived. And in short, the Friars played the part of an overwhelming Goliath, while the defending MIAA Division 2 state champion Titans played the part of David -- minus the rock.
The Friars (5-0) overwhelmed the Titans from start to finish, at one point going 15 minutes without allowing a field goal, cruising to an all-too-easy 68-25 win.
St. Anthony's 6-foot-9, UCLA-bound star Kyle Anderson got off to a sluggish start, but came around to lead the team with 12 points, seven rebounds and six steals in three quarters of action. 6-foot-6 senior center Jerome Frink led the way on the boards with 10 rebounds.
From the get-go, it was evident that the Friars' speed and length was going to be a significant problem for the Titans (3-2). Jonathan Deane gave the Titans their only lead of the game, albeit a brief one, with a gliding layup for a 4-3 score. That was four minutes into the game, and would be the last Titans field goal for the next 14:28; they hit just five free throws the remainder of the half to trail 30-9 at the break. Leroy Hamilton ended the drought with a euro-step in transition, to cut it to 35-11.
"We came out ready to compete, but the plan fell apart once guys stopped believing in what we wanted to do," Mission head coach Cory McCarthy said. "Young, inexperienced, looking at the crowd, they played into it. They were in awe of them. If you're from the city, you're not supposed to be in awe of anybody...we were ready to take pictures.
"We can't fall in love what they do. We looked like a JV basketball team today. That's not indicative of our talent, the character of our kids, it's not who we are. It's not New Mission basketball."
And when they stop playing New Mission basketball, McCarthy continued, "bad things happened", referring to last night's poor start in the BABC Holiday Classic against St. John's Prep -- Mission trailed 18-2 after the first quarter.
McCarthy did say "we played a better first quarter than last night", though how much better is up for inspired debate. Like the Prep game the night before, the Titans were overwhelmed to start; but the Friars posed a plethora of matchup nightmares that few teams in the talent-rich Garden State can tango with, let alone the Bay State.
Up top, 6-foot-3 junior guards Hallice Cooke and Josh Brown harassed the Titans' guards high around the perimeter, cutting off lanes to the basket, trapping at the sidelines, forcing sloppy handoffs and arguably sloppier shot selection at times. When the Friars went to a 2-2-1 press, deploying four defenders high in the backcourt and a deep trailer, players like Anderson, Brown and Tariq Carey were able to pick pockets from the middle of the floor.
The masterstroke came in the second quarter, where the Friars didn't allow a field goal -- even better, they yielded just seven field goal attempts for the quarter.
It doesn't get any prettier on the boards. The Titans were outrebounded by nearly a 4-to-1 ratio.
"At this point through five games, no one's been able to get any rhythm going against us," Friars head coach Bob Hurley said. "We mix it up a little bit, we play man, play a little press, and we don't expect to press against smaller teams. But we did manage to get a bunch of turnovers off of it today because we're long, and Kyle had a bunch of good plays in the press.
"We played a little zone in the back, and we're very long and we heard from last night that they had trouble shooting the ball well, so we thought the points we were going to lead them with were forcing them to make outside shots with big, long guys going after them."
Mission stars benched: McCarthy sat two of his starters and star players, junior forward Nate Anderson and freshman point guard Greg Bridges, for the first quarter for arriving late to a shootaround this morning. Could their presence have stopped the early bleeding? That's up for debate, but perhaps McCarthy should get some credit here for sticking to his principles -- even with a monster opponent like St. Anthony on tap.
"It affects the team, but I gotta do what I gotta do," McCarthy said. "Right? That's number one...sorry, I'm not going to tolerate that at New Mission."
A Modest Proposal: McCarthy was asked how the experience of playing against St. Anthony's length will help them out when they get back to playing the smaller squads on their MIAA schedule, and he used his answer to springboard into a topic that has become a growing hot-button issue among the public school coaching fraternity the last few seasons: out-of-season contact.
Rule 40.1 in the current MIAA Handbook states:
"Unless otherwise permitted in this rule, between seasons a coach may conduct a meeting(s) with team candidates only to elect captains, collect equipment, issue equipment, to provide for physical examinations, to conduct legitimate fund-raising events, or to offer wellness workshops or activities."
"This is what we produce, and you wonder why prep schools are stealing our kids," he said. "Because our kids can't practice and work with our kids year-round. You're telling me as a coach to be a role model for four months out of the year. That's the situation we're dealt with as coaches, and I feel handcuffed that way.
"They're telling me to take eight months off. I shouldn't be taking eight months off, I should be working with my kids year-round. We should be able to work with teams year round, and this is an indictment. We can't match up with a team like this when we've had three weeks of basketball working with them. That [St. Anthony's discipline] was instinctive. Right now, we're robotic."
McCarthy's comments will likely rub some the wrong way. But with an increasing number of students transferring high schools once or twice, usually to prep schools, more and more state-association schools are becoming frustrated with having less control, and the inability to take action. Sanctioning a limited number of days out of season, some feel, would at least give coaches the ability to check in with players, see where they're at, and offer instructions to make sure they're prepared when tryouts begin.
Either way, we're sure McCarthy's comments will be sparking up plenty of debate.