Boston High School: Keyon Armstrong

D2 North Boys: Brighton 66, Wakefield 59

March, 11, 2012
LOWELL, Mass. -– Spurred by an early effort from Malik James (18 points, six rebounds, five assists), Brighton jumped out to an early 11-2 lead in the first quarter and held the lead the length of the game, winning 66-59 in the Division 2 North Boys’ Championship.

Although the margin of victory was only seven, the Bengals led by as much as fourteen in the fourth quarter, but could not open up the match.

“We [brought] intensity going into the game because we know if we had never came out, we could have been on the other of that scoreboard and we could have lost” James said after Brighton’s victory. “We were in this predicament last year, so we had to rebound, we had to play defense, run our sets like coach said. Knowing that our big man [Tre Dowman] was out, the intensity just won us the game.”

Not only did the Bengals’ usual suspects -- James, and junior shooting guard Daivon Edwards -- come up big for the Bengals, but underclassmen, some who started the year on junior varsity but due to ineligibility of others, these young guns were able to shine on the big stage, but they got dirty doing it.

The Bengals held their largest lead at 14 numerous times during the game, even in the fourth quarter. While Brighton held the lead, there were times -- like the last four minutes of the game -- that Wakefield would show life, such as senior Keyon Armstrong’s 5-for-5 campaign from the line in a matter of possessions, the final cutting the lead to 7 with 1:20 left in the game. Two free throws from junior forward Kendall Hamilton cut the margin to five at 63-58.

Close Cut: Brighton head coach Hugh Coleman believes in some way, that his team had an advantage with the Warriors when within five points, as opposed to maintaining that fourteen point lead or opening up the game for a definitive win.

“Anybody could be up by 14, you know, it eases the stress," Coleman said. "But what happens with us sometimes is we get complacent, and we think the game’s over, and it causes us to shift the momentum to a team that’s going to play hard for 32 minutes and get back in the game. So, sometimes, being up five is a little more comfortable.”

Spread Out: Getting this late into the playoffs, close games can go either way very fast. Top notch shooters, defensive specialists, pure energy players all have the possibility to turn a five point margin upside down within a minute, so how does Coleman believe that his squadron will survive their highest peak yet?

“We have enough experience of being up and being down and understanding the difference to stress time and situation," Coleman said. "How to work a clock, keep that lead going and have teams come after us and follow us so we can increase that lead.

Show Discipline: “Damani Carter, No. 24, JV guy that comes up, just comes out, get some big rebounds, gets a layup, hits a three, just a great job,” Coleman said of the 6-foot-2 sophomore. “I’m proud of our young guys and our bench because they’ve done a great job of just doing their part… If everyone takes care of their responsibility, as a whole, we’ll come out on top.”

Div. 2 Boys: Wakefield 47, North Andover 45

March, 8, 2012

WOBURN, Mass. -- Throughout this postseason, Wakefield coach Brad Simpson was able to look back at his 2008 team that went 11-9 during the regular season but made a run to the sectional finals and use them as a teaching point for this year's Warriors, most of whom were in middle school at the time.

Simpson is still preaching the same message: focus on one game at a time, play hard for 32 minutes, and leave everything out on the court. And that message is being heard once again.

Senior Keyon Armstrong finished with 16 points, while freshman Bruce Brown scored eight of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, to help No. 5 seeded Wakefield survive a battle to the wire with top-seeded North Andover and escape with a 47-45 victory in the Division 2 North semifinals Thursday night at Woburn High School.

Wakefield (17-6) will take on No. 3 Brighton (19-3) in Saturday's sectional final, at 7:45 p.m. at the Tsongas Center in Lowell.

"Four years ago we played in Tsongas against Reading and we lost," recalled Simpson after the game. "None of these kids were really around. They were around but they were eighth graders, seventh graders. The night we qualified, we beat Woburn ironically, and the coaches talked, the kids were interested about the tournament. They were interested in how it works, where do you go."

"We traced it four years ago, we traced the group that was not as good as this group," he continued. "We got in at 11-9 and we got the Tsongas Center. The message was, we play one game at a time, we don't look ahead, 32 minutes, no regrets. That's what they've done."

Fourth Quarter Adjustment Pays Off: After watching Armstrong torch the Scarlet Knights for four 3-pointers and 14 first-half points, you would think the Warriors would be inclined to stay with the hot hand in what was a nip-and-tuck battle from wire to wire.

Instead, what both the coaches and the players were noticing was Brown's continuous ability to beat his man off the dribble. It didn't matter that the freshman was struggling to get into the flow of the game. What mattered is that they had faith in Brown to take over at the end, and he rewarded that decision with a clutch performance.

With Wakefield trailing, 39-35, Brown hit two quick buckets to tie the game. After NA went back up by a point, Brown responded with a long jumper to move the Warriors back in front. The two teams traded the lead seven times in the final frame and NA went ahead, 45-43, after a clutch three by Zach Karalis, but Brown responded with a hoop of his to tie then had an assist on Mikol Blake-Green's tip-in that put Wakefield ahead for good with 1:03 remaining.

"I talked to (coach) and I said I could take him off the dribble," said Brown, retelling the conversation that led to the adjustment that put the ball in his hands. "He said alright, and started calling plays for me and I executed. I just felt good. People were telling me to take over, take over and I finally listened to them. At first I was nervous and I was like, let me just pass the ball, but then I just had to take it myself."

Added Simpson, "We thought we had a good matchup with their point guard and our point guard and in the first half, Keyon Armstrong with the threes was just huge. But we realized as the second half went on that the matchup off the dribble was Bruce. The kid covering Bruce, that's where we had an advantage.

"As a coach, you like to run stuff, you like to run your sets and this and that but when you want to win this kind of game, tonight, you give it to Bruce and he made the shots."

Sacrifice Today Symbolizes Season: For Armstrong, a senior, to yield the ball to his younger teammate in the middle of a strong performance of his own says a lot about his leadership ability and character. Armstrong simply couldn't miss in the early going, knocking down a pair of treys in both the first and second quarters as the Warriors took a 29-25 lead into halftime.

While Armstrong scored just one basket in the second half, his abilities as a distributor helped find open looks for Brown and his willingness to cede the spotlight over the final 16 minutes was a major reason why the Warriors are headed to the Tsongas Center.

"We knew if we came back, we had to secure that lead and that’s exactly what we did," Armstrong said. "We’ve gone through people making sacrifices, as in playing team ball instead of one on one ball. We’ve been a family since day one and that’s all we try to be. It just showed right here that anything’s possible when we work together."

After missing several games during the regular season because of an injury, Simpson is happy to have one of biggest weapons back in fighting form.

"He's an outstanding shooter," said Simpson in praise of his senior. "He got hurt during the season in practice, he hurt his wrist and had to sit out a couple of games. In the games he came back, he didn't shoot the ball very well. But it's feeling better now and I'm not sure that a lot of teams realize what a good shooter he is."

Recap: Wakefield 59, Reading 48

January, 28, 2012

READING, Mass. -- Kenny Reed calmly brought the ball over half-court, planted, hesitated, then calmly watched as the feathery, NBA-range three-pointer he jacked up landed with seemingly the same effortless force he exerted walking into the shot. That gave Reading High a nice 16-6 cushion just five minutes into this big Middlesex League tilt.

And from that point on, it was all...Wakefield.

The Warriors responded immediately, soundly and forcefully over the remaining 27 minutes, outscoring the Rockets 28-6 over the remainder of the first half to take a commanding lead into the break. From there, Wakefield turned in some solid defensive rotations, created some key second-chance points, and hit their free throws to ice a 59-48 win at the Hawkes Field House.

"We just knew that we couldn't bow down, and had to step up our intensity," senior guard Keyon Armstrong (12 points) said of the Warriors' play following those opening minutes. "And just know that we couldn't let that get away from us."

But how did he feel after that all-too-easy walk-up three?

"A little...aggravated that I let it happen," Armstrong confessed. "But I know when the team comes together, we'll be alright."

Perhaps it wasn't that particular play, but rather the Warriors' own play on a whole, that woke them up. Whatever the case, Wakefield (9-3) turned up the pressure over the ensuing 10 minutes to take a 34-22 lead into halftime.

It started with some heady play around the rim from the Warriors' star freshman swingman Bruce Brown (18 points, 15 rebounds). He created some transition points with a steal in the halfcourt and some offensive rebounds to cut the Rockets' (10-3) lead to four at the end of the first quarter.

Then, to start the second, down 16-12, Brown crashed the glass on an errant jumper and tipped in a put-back, followed by a Kendall Hamilton (12 points) 16-footer from the baseline, cleared by a Mikol Blake-Green screen. On the ensuing Rockets trip down the floor, an errant Reed windmill layup was scooper up by Armstrong, who dribbled up to the near volleyball line, threw an outlet to Brown and watched as the frosh laid it in easily for an 18-16 lead.

Hamilton extended the lead to five the next trip down when he inbounded from the baseline to the left corner, where a wide open James Bourque sunk a three. From there, the Warriors never surrendered the lead; Reading never came within eight points in the second half.

"We never let the student body get into the action," Wakefield head coach Brad Simpson said. "That was nice. But, Reading's a good team, obviously you've got to bring your A-game if you expect to beat them. I think for most of the 32 minutes we played pretty well."

Playing through pain: Armstrong has been battling through a wrist injury recently, and Simpson made it a point to applaud the senior captain for his perseverance. One of the Warriors' most dynamic scorers, Armstrong is also often asked to defend the opposition's most dangerous scorer.

Tonight, that task was marking Reed when in man-to-man, with the bum wrist and all, and he held the senior point guard to a respectable 8 of 19 campaign from the field. Reed totaled 21 points on the night to lead Reading.

"He's playing with a lot of pain, and he just gave us a great effort tonight, despite the fact that he's not really 100 percent with his wrist," Simpson said of Armstrong. "He's kind of the motor that keeps us running at an optimum level."

Commanding the paint: With his stocky 6-foot-5 frame, and complimentary lower-body strength, Reading senior center Jerry Ellis-Williams looks the part of someone that, at this level of competition, can control the boards at will.

But there's a twist with Ellis-Williams' game -- the big guy can step out and get hot from deep. And with that in mind, the Warriors fed into that strategy, letting him fire away from the perimeter but keeping him grounded when he wandered into the paint. It worked, as Ellis-Williams finished with six points on 2-of-12 shooting from the field. But more importantly, he was just 1-of-8 from three-point range, picked up his second foul with 3:19 left in the first quarter, and third with two minutes left in the second quarter.

"My freshman year, he hit two three's to beat us in overtime," Hamilton said. "He's normally a good shooter, but we saw he kept missing, so we let him keep shooting."

Overall, the Warriors held a 38-32 advantage on the boards.

Brown a star in the making: Brown, a 6-foot-1 forward, has a unique skill set that demonstrates maturity beyond that of a 15-year-old. With a lean build and a skill set similar to that of high-major recruits like Wayne Selden or Jared Terrell, it isn't just that Brown is fearless attacking the rim -- it's that he makes it look smooth.

In one sequence, Brown picked up steam from behind the play and delivered a block on a would-be layup, getting called for a questionable on-the-arm foul. In the fourth quarter, he took off from just below the volleyball line across the paint for a one-handed slam and picked up a foul.

Doesn't seem like the work of a freshman, does it?

"It doesn't at all," Hamilton said. "He's one of those kids that's coming into his own. I mean, he's an amazing talent. He's like a little brother to me. He's getting there."

Hamilton added, "Hopefully, he stays one more year, so we can make a run at it," alluding to the growing public perception that at some point -- perhaps sooner rather than later -- Brown will try and take his talents to one of the more competitive prep school programs that operate under the NEPSAC.

Simpson called Brown's seamless, effortless-looking play "silky", drawing on his memories of watching former UCLA and Lakers star Jamaal Wilkes (nicknamed "Silky" himself) for added effect.

"I think he's just blessed," Simpson said of Brown. "You know, you look at another 15-year-old, they've got talent, they've got skills and stuff, but you also have to have that...he's 6-1, and he's blessed with the ability to jump. And when he jumps, he's up there."