BOSTON -- With 35 seconds left in the game Saturday and his team down by six, Malden’s Bryan Mitchell drove into the lane in transition, put the ball behind his back, and without traveling, finger-rolled the ball into the hoop for two points.
Twenty seconds later, he hit another runner in the lane to cut the deficit down to two. After a timeout, the team was forced to foul Lynn Classical’s Phil Rogers. The senior guard hit both ends of a one-and-one to put an end to any potential Malden comeback.
Classical defeated Malden 55-51 at the Good Sports Invitational at the TD Garden.
“The kids, for three periods, were excited about being on the court and it takes a while to finally settle down and not be in awe playing in the same place that many of the great Celtics players have played on,” said Lynn Classical (7-5) coach Tom Grassa.
For the first three quarters, the energy in the building and on the floor was lacking, and the score showed that. Malden (6-4) held a 37-35 lead going into the final frame, but both teams came out with a renewed energy once they realized the last period was going to decide the outcome of the game.
Malden’s Anthony Gilardi was particularly active in the game, finishing with 11 points and 18 rebounds. On the other end of the floor, Classical’s Rogers was named the player of the game with 24 points and five rebounds. Knocking down the two free throws at the end of the game was no sweat for him.
“I wasn’t nervous, we just came to have fun,” Rogers said after the game. “A few guys were probably nervous because of the big arena, and lots of people watching on the Celtics’ court, but I wasn’t.”
Players seemed to struggle with the depth perception that comes with shooting on a clear, see-through backboard in a big arena. Some would overshoot the basket entirely, while others would send line drive shots off the back of the rim, and a few even air-balled the net trying to adjust for the differences from their home courts.
“We told the guys that this is probably the first time guys wouldn’t be shooting at a basket that doesn’t have a big pipe coming down from the ceiling and the depth of field is so different because the ceiling is so high,” said Grassa. “It makes it difficult even on the terrific outside shooters.”
“We came here back-to-back in ’93 and ’94 and we had guys who were seniors that had made 200 three-pointers, outstanding shooters, and they all shot airballs,” he added. “I believe two years in a row we didn’t make one three.”
In a rut: For the first six minutes of the second quarter, Lynn Classical did not score a basket. It only scored six points in the entire second frame.
“I don’t want to accuse guys of taking bad shots, I just think we missed decent, easy looks,” said Grassa. “At halftime I pointed at four different individuals and said, ‘You know, that’s a shot you normally make nine times out of 10.’ Four footers, six footers, we missed an awful lot of those. One of our specialties it the air ball on the two-foot floater. I said to the guys that I think we’re 1-for-1,000 this year.”
To start the quarter, Classical was up 18-10 but after the scoring drought, Malden was able to crawl back and take the lead. The two teams went into halftime tied at 24.
“We realized in the first half they got 16 offensive rebounds,” said Nally. “We emphasized at halftime that was something we had to get better at. We emphasized getting a body on people and not just trying to out jump everybody.”
Malden was in an out of its 2-3 zone the whole game, but it did not seem to give Classical any trouble. It moved the ball effectively around the perimeter and found its share of open shots.
“We like to go 2-2-1 back to 2-3, it’s kind of what we do best,” Nally said. “Obviously we went through some man today because I think just playing out here you have to show some man. But I like our 2-3, I think we’re better with it.”
Mitchell regains his footing: Mitchell’s late-game heroics were impressive because earlier in the quarter, he injured his ankle hustling for a rebound. After hobbling off the court in visible pain and being tended to by team trainers, the senior returned to the game and had arguably his most effective quarter of basketball after his injury.
“It’s a little sore,” he said. “I did it for the team. I just kept playing. Playing in this environment, you kind of forget about it, so I just tried to put it aside and play for the team and try to get the win.”
He finished with 16 points, five rebounds, and three steals.