NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -- It wasn't the prettiest basketball, nor were there a lot of points scored. It was the kind of knock-down, drag-out duel you would expect from an Andover vs. North Andover game. So it was only fitting it was a one-point game with just over one minute remaining in Friday’s game.
No. 17 Andover hadn't trailed at all in the game until North Andover’s Wabissa Bede was fouled driving to the basket. His layup rolled into the hoop, giving his team the one-point lead.
Andover’s EJ Perry (8 points, 5 rebounds) was fouled and went to the free throw line. The three-sport varsity athlete is only a sophomore but he has shown an ability to make important baskets in pressure situations. This time was no different, as both free throws dropped in the net to give the Golden Warriors the lead back.
North’s next shot missed and an Andover player came down with the rebound. Again, Perry found himself with the basketball in his hands in a big moment. After working the ball around the floor, Perry decided he was going to take it himself. He drove down the right side of the paint and let go an off-balance finger roll. The ball rolled around the right edge of the rim and into the hoop. Three-point lead.
“Big players make big plays at the end of big games,” said Andover coach Dave Fazio, referencing Perry’s play. “We ran a nice little play for (David) Giribaldi (7 points) on the baseline and Bede blocked the shot. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ E.J. is just tough. He’s a warrior. We’ve got a lot of warriors.”
Coming out of a North Andover timeout, the offensive objective was obvious: get Bede an open three-point shot. The junior had a monster game, scoring 22 points and pulling down 12 rebounds. This is the player that dropped 47 points on Haverhill three nights earlier.
He curled around a screen, caught a pass, and let go the open shot North Andover coach Paul Tanglis was looking for. It bounced off the rim but a teammate came down with the rebound. Robert Couyoumjian (9 points) stepped behind the line in the left corner and let off a shot of his own. That too hit the rim and this time Andover’s Ryan O’Connell came down (9 points, 9 rebounds) with the rebound and the last seconds ticked off the clock.
“We gave Wabissa the look we wanted with an open three and I’ll take that 100 out of 100 times,” said Tanglis. “It was in and out, but I thought that’s what we wanted in the end and we got it. It just didn’t fall. I liked the way we executed down the stretch and I thought overall we played pretty well.”
Andover held on for a 49-46 victory.
“We’ll take it,” said Fazio. “We won a league title tonight (Merrimack Valley Conference Large), now we decide do we want to share it with anybody or do we want to own it all by ourselves?”
Defensive stalemate: Friday was the second time the two teams played against each other. The first time, on Jan. 16, Andover was victorious 76-61. Coming into the game, Tanglis was determined to not give up that many points to the Golden Warriors again.
“We watched film the past two days and we just said we can’t let up 76 points to a team like that, they’re just too good,” he said. “We worked on a lot of different things like getting back on defense, just trying to not let any transition layups in and we did a great job with that. Unfortunately, we didn’t keep them off the glass like we wanted to (29 rebounds). A couple long rebounds, a couple big three’s off offensive rebounds for them I thought was the difference for us.”
Conversely, Andover had defensive lapses of its own. Fazio employed multiple defensive looks in order to keep North Andover guessing and its guards out of rhythm, but also to hide what he feels is a team inefficiency in its man-to-man defense.
“We used a multiple defense approach because you have to keep them off balance, especially that guard (Bede), that guard is tremendous,” he said. “We just tried to keep them off balance, tried to change the defenses. We’re just trying to find something that will stick with my guys. For 26 years we’ve been solely a man-to-man team. This team can not play man-to-man, so we mix it up.”