WALPOLE, Mass. -– People were getting turned away before the game and were leaving before it was over.
Wellesley used strong defense and solid shooting to turn a five-point halftime lead into a convincing 69-56 win over Walpole in Bay State Herget action.
The story was Wellesley's Aidan James who pumped in a game-high 25 points and hit big shots in big moments.
“I didn't think I had 25, but it felt good,” James said. “I had a good feeling. We were passing the ball great. Everyone was working together.”
Wellesley led for the the entire game, except for a brief moment near the end of the first quarter. Despite leading throughout, Walpole kept the game close early. Adam Quinlan was a monster in the paint in the first half for Walpole piling up 11 points and eight rebounds. Quinlan finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
The Rebels finished the first half on an 8-2 run to close the gap to 32-27, and bring the over-capacity crowd into it.
However, in the second half the Raiders were able to neutralize Walpole and open the lead to as much as 20. Wellesley held Walpole to 35 percent shooting (20-of-58). The Raiders keyed in on Walpole's Ryan Fogarty, who got the better of the Raiders in their first meeting. Fogarty scored 21 points, but he was held to only 8-22 shooting.
“Our press usually leads into our defense, but us missing let them set up and execute well,” Walpole coach David St. Martin said. “[Wellesley] played very well tonight and I give them a lot of credit. For us we try to create a lot of havoc on defense and tonight we just didn't get after it.”
Led by Ryan Noel and Malik Rochelle, the Raiders outrebounded Walpole by 11 and seemed to control the glass at will in the second half. Rochelle was tasked with guarding Quinlan, who he effectively shut down in the final 16 minutes.
“Malik is undersized and we told him you front [Quinlan],” Wellesley coach Glen Magpiong said. “You front Quinlan and you make him work, and he did. Malik plays much better than his 6-foot height. Both Ryan and Malik did a nice job.”
Nir from far: While James was running wild on the offensive end it was Nir (pronounced “near”) Liebenthal who keyed the Raider offense. Liebenthal had nine points, all in the second half, to add another dimension to the Wellesley attack.
“Nir has had a great year,” Magpiong said. “I call it the 'due theory'. He was due. He's run our offense, he's hitting shots. Nir is having a terrific year. He's a silent, unsung hero right now.”
James said that Liebenthal's deft control at the point allowed the rest of the team to thrive in a hostile gym.
“He hit the shots when he needed to for sure,” James said. “Nice little pull-up, some three's. That's what he does: he hits the shots when he needs to. He controls the game at the point. No one can steal it from him so he really calms us down and gets us running stuff so we have a shot.”
Remembering Tommy: Last fall Walpole freshman Tommy Quinn passed away as a result of a brain tumor. For this game, in conjunction with the A Shot for Life foundation, the Rebel basketball team helped raise funds for the Tommy Quinn Foundation and remember their classmate.
Special t-shirts were worn by fans, coaches, and players from both sides.
Despite the loss, St. Martin said that it was a joyous night.
“It was a class act by Wellesley; they purchased shirts and donated some money and wore them,” St. Martin said. “I have a lot of respect for coach Magpiong. I thought it was a great night. We haven't had an atmosphere like this in probably 10 years here. Just too bad the outcome was a bit different, but it was a great night all around.”