Boston High School: Sam Dowden

D1 North: Central Catholic 61, Andover 48

March, 5, 2013
3/05/13
11:37
PM ET
LAWRENCE, Mass. -- For the past two weeks, there has been a reemergence of the Central Catholic team most prognosticators expected to be a serious contender for the Division 1 Massachusetts State Championship.

It has been the team that shocked the state back in January when it came within four points of beating national power St. Anthony (N.J.) in a game it was not expected to win.

Tuesday, Central continued its run by beating Merrimack Valley Conference foe Andover 61-48 to advance to the Division 1 North final Saturday.

Central (20-5) smothered Andover (16-7) defensively, forcing 19 turnovers and holding it to 10 points in the entire first half. Its only points in the quarter came on a David Giribaldi (15 points) three-pointer.

“They totally took us out of everything we were trying to do,” said Andover coach Dave Fazio. “We couldn’t turn the corner, couldn’t make shots. You’d figure with the season that we had that we wouldn’t play tentative, but their defense just locked us down. We couldn’t get to the rim, we couldn’t make shots, it was just a tough, tough night at the office.”

Conversely, everything seemed to go well for Central. It got scoring where it needed it (31 points from Tyler Nelson), rebounded well (20 combined rebounds from Joel Berroa, Aaron Hall, and Mike Barry), and got quality defense (4 steals by Nelson, 3 blocks from Hall).

“I’ve had a lot of great wins in my short seven years, had state championship wins, tournament wins, conference wins, but this might be one of the best wins we’ve ever had,” said Central coach Rick Nault. “I don’t know how many teams in the state can be without two of their top four players and win three games in the tournament and beat a team that just beat the No. 1 seed. For me, in my eyes, this is one of the great wins I’ve had in seven years.”

Hall fills role: Since two of Central’s five starters, Doug Gemmell and Nick Cambio, have been out with injuries, the team has relied on 6-foot-6 junior Aaron Hall to fill one of its starting forward positions. The team is used to playing without Gemmell -- who suffered a concussion earlier in the season, and is now dealing with a recurrence of symptoms -- but it is not used to playing without Cambio. The junior injured his hamstring in a Feb. 20 loss at Lowell.

Hall and Joel Berroa (11 points, eight rebounds) were tasked with defending Andover’s post pair of Sam Dowden and Connor Merinder. To say they succeeded would be an understatement, as they held them without a point each in the first half, and they finished with 12 and 1 point respectively. Eight of Dowden’s points came at the free throw line.

“We said to Joel that it was going to come down to who wins the battle of the two forwards, him or Dowden,” said Nault. “Is he going to outplay Dowden? If he does, we’re going to win. Or is Dowden going to get the better of him? If he does, we’re in trouble. Without Nick and Doug, Joel has to do so many more things than he’s used to doing, and he won that battle tonight.”

Hall may not have lit up the scoresheet (seven points, six rebounds, three blocks), but he made life difficult inside for Andover. Its guards had difficulty finishing at the rim off the dribble, and Dowden was unable to muscle his way around the post like he wanted to. Because they were unable to work the ball inside effectively, it had to rely on outside jump shooting to score, and it was one of those nights where the shots were just not going in.

“People don’t give him enough credit,” said Nelson. “He plays his heart out, he really does. He boxes out, rebounds, does all the little things for us. He was a key player for us tonight. We wouldn’t have played as well as we did the last three games of the year if it wasn’t for him playing and rebounding as well as he is right now, especially with Doug and Nick out.”

As the games continue, the stage is getting bigger and bigger, but Hall is showing no signs of inexperience or nerves.

“I know I just have to push, even if I’m tired, just give 110 percent the whole time,” he said. “If you don’t, it could be your last game, and you just have to try hard.”

Rapid Rebound: It is strange to believe a team can cruise through a state sectional tournament with two of its starting five gone with injuries, but that is what Central has done so far this postseason. When it was without Gemmell in February, it had its ups and downs, most notably a 22-point loss to Lowell 8 days before the tournament started. But now here it is, one win away from a sectional title and three wins away from a state championship.

How?

“I don’t really have an answer for that,” Nelson said. “My best guess would be that we’re just playing really hard right now and real good team basketball. That’s what’s making us win and score a lot of points. We’re all working hard, especially on defense. A lot of our defense is causing a lot of offense, and me, Joel, and Lucas are playing really well together. Every guy that plays is stepping up right now.”

Nault credits focus and intensity for his team’s recent performance.

“We’re fighting and clawing every possession, and I think it showed that in the first half tonight,” he said. “Every possession, you have to fight and claw. You have to bump guys, be active, you gotta be talking. We’ve got to bring everything we can to the table every defensive possession, without those two guys, our two bigs.”

Embracing Hostility: Tyler Nelson has long drawn the ire and attention of Andover’s fan section, nicknamed "Jack’s Jungle". Such was the case Tuesday night, when they got into a tit-for-tat throughout the game. Any prolific scorer on any team is bound to hear chants of things like “Overrated!” when they walk into opposing gyms, but it is up to the player on the court to acknowledge them.

During one possession in the first half, Nelson was standing on the wing, directly in front of the Andover student section. After receiving a pass, he drove to the basket and hit one of the few fallaway jumpers he hit throughout the game. When the shot went in, he turned around, looked at the fans, said something, and ran back up the floor with his palms up.

He even heard negative chants later in the game, after Central had pulled away. When the game was over, he acknowledged he takes those chants and taunts and helps him use them to fuel his play.

“I definitely use it as fuel,” he said. “The first two times we played them, especially the first time, I didn’t have too good of a game and I got an “overrated” chant. So I kind of kept that in the back of my memory, and I made sure I got my revenge back in the end.”

Saturday Showdown: With the win, Central Catholic moves on to face Lynn English Saturday at the Tsongas Center for the Division 1 North title. The two teams did not play during the regular season, but English did play in the IAABO Board 130 Classic, which Central hosted. There, Nault was able to get a glance at his future opponent.

“They’re a very good defensive team, they trap all over the place,” he said. “The last time we played them in the Tsongas Arena, we got whacked, back in 2009. We have to prepare for them. They have a very athletic group, with two big guys up front, so it’s going to be an absolute challenge for us.”

Recap: No. 5 North Andover 73, No. 11 Andover 50

February, 11, 2013
2/11/13
12:26
AM ET
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -- Outside the locker room at North Andover High's field house, where the No. 5 Scarlet Knights had just strung together a nice 73-50 defeat of border rival No. 11 Andover, coach Mike McVeigh was told by a reporter the stat line for senior Chris Bardwell, and he couldn't believe it.

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph," he muttered.

A few moments later, Bardwell appeared from the locker room, and McVeigh turned to him to ask: "Thirty-four, are you kidding me?"

"Wasn't keeping track," Bardwell grinned.

To which McVeigh quickly shot back, chuckling, "Yeah, you better not be."

It was a career-high and career-defining night for the 6-foot-5 senior, who transferred into NA from Central Catholic for his senior season and made his impact felt almost immediately. Tonight's effort -- 34 points, 14 rebounds, and a pair of pretty assists -- rectified that impact.

Good players know how to get to the rim, and Bardwell did exactly that in the first half, starting off 8-of-9 from the field and finishing shooting 66.6 percent from the floor (14-of-21), mostly coming on high-percentage bunnies around the rim or put-backs. Though there were some dazzling plays, like the one-handed underhand finish off a long Derek Collins lob in transition in the second quarter; or getting his own put-back off his own missed free throw; or one of the more good-karma put-backs of his season, positioning himself at the foul line for a long rebound and hucking it back at the rim one-handed.

But mostly, it was about finding open space in the paint and making the most of it -- "Our mentality was just to go all out," he said.

And all of that keeps NA (14-2, 13-1) in the hunt for the Merrimack Valley Conference's Large division title, in the Knights' first year of league membership. Headed into Tuesday's matchup with Central Catholic (14-3, 11-1), the two teams are tied for first, with one loss each in the league (Central to NA on Jan. 29, NA to Andover on Jan. 18).

"I didn't want to lose," Bardwell said. "I know on the line [tonight] was the MVC title. I know us coming into the MVC in our first year and winning the MVC title [would be] outrageous. It's never happened before, a team coming in and winning, so...I was just ready to play. We were all ready to play. We played smart. We were just awesome as a team, everything."

Leading 35-26 at the half, the Knights came out firing on all cylinders from long distance to start the third, outscoring the Golden Warriors (12-5) by a wide margin, 24-8. That included five 3-pointers, including a back-to-back-to-back swing by Derek Collins (11 points) and Brett Daley that put the Knights up 50-31 with 2:42 to go in the frame.

Also helping the cause was a dominant presence on the boards. Just as they were in last week's historic upset of Central Catholic, the Knights were everywhere on rebounds. With margin for error, the Knights unofficially held a 42-16 advantage on rebounds, including a 17-2 edge in the second quarter, thanks to the presence of St. Anselm-bound 6-foot-5 senior Isaiah Nelsen (14 points, 10 rebounds).

That's quite the turnaround from the previous two meetings this year. In their first meeting on Dec. 20, in the first round of the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament, the Warriors prevailed 76-63 in overtime. The second time around, on Jan. 18, Andover won 64-52 in regulation.

"There's nothing ever easy about Andover," McVeigh said. "We can't do anything about the first two, all we could do is try to grab one of the three, and that's what the kids did."

Andover was led in scoring by senior Chris Dunn (14 points), who started with three 3-pointers to open the first quarter. The Warriors also got 10 points from Jack Konevich, and nine each from Sam Dowden and David Giribaldi.

Lob City Lite: Late in the third quarter, NA junior forward Casey Walsh heaved up an alley-oop pass from the left wing that found Bardwell on the weak-side post, running for a dramatic lay-in and drawing a foul in the process for a three-point play. McVeigh turned to a reporter seated near the scorer's table and cracked, "You're smiling, but I'm not."

It's not McVeigh's preferred method, but tonight the Knights excelled at the lob, mostly when used as an outlet pass to trigger a fast break. The game opened with a breakaway two-handed slam from Nelsen, firing up the home crowd. In the first 4:20 of the game, the Knights scored three times off deep lobs in the fast break, with either Nelsen or Bardwell crashing down the lane for an easy layup.

"I'm telling you, we're a fast break team," Bardwell said. "They were running a 1-3-1...We'd just bring it up, pass middle, pass to the side, and they just found me. It worked beautifully."

Sentimental visit: Bardwell's visit Tuesday night to Central Catholic's famed Memorial Gymnasium will be his first since he last suited up for the Raiders a year ago. Bardwell had nothing but good things to say about Central, and credits coach Rick Nault (who was in attendance tonight) for helping his development as a rebounder.

But make no mistake, Tuesday night is going to be a big night not just for Bardwell, but for the NA program itself. On Jan. 29, the Knights upset Central in dramatic fashion, rallying from an 18-point deficit midway through the third quarter to earn the program's first win over the Raiders since 1986. Another win over Central on Tuesday would sweep the season series, and put the Knights in pole position for the MVC Large title -- a spot few predicted coming into the season for the Knights, in their first year since moving from the Cape Ann League.

"I'm coming into that game roaring," Bardwell said. "It's going to be unbelievable. We're all pumped up. I'm going to come in with the same enthusiasm I came into with this game, and it's going to be awesome. It's going to be probably the best experience of my life. And we're ready."

And the expected capacity crowd? Bardwell thinks, "It's gonna be insane."

Does he expect that crowd to be riding him?

"All game," he laughed. "I was talking to this kid, he said they've already got chants ready. They're gonna rock."

Roundtable: Midseason All-State, Superlatives

January, 25, 2013
1/25/13
3:46
PM ET
At the midpoint of the MIAA basketball season, we've asked our panel of experts to submit their picks for ESPN Boston All-State, as well as Mr. and Miss Basketball along with a number of superlatives:

***

Brendan Hall
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor


All-State Super Team
G – Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
G – Darien Fernandez, Sr., Wareham
G – Jameilen Jones, Sr., BC High
G/F – Kamari Robinson, Sr., Springfield Central
F/C – Tyler Gibson, Sr., Rockland

Second Team
G – Jaylen Blakely, Sr., Brockton
G – Nick McKenna, Sr., Danvers
F – Nick Cambio, Jr., Central Catholic
F – Brendan Hill, Soph., Mansfield
F – Isaiah Nelsen, Sr., North Andover

Third Team
G – Riyadh Asad, Sr., West Springfield
G – Juwan Gooding, Soph., New Mission
F - Sam Dowden, Sr., Andover
C - Dakari Wornum, Sr., Dorchester
C – Chris Baldwin, Soph., Springfield Central

Girls Super Team
G - Infiniti Thomas-Waheed, Jr., Newton North
G - Donnaizha Fountain, Sr., Cambridge
F - Olivia Healy, Sr., Reading
F - Caitlyn Abela, Sr., Oliver Ames
C - Molly Reagan, Soph., Braintree

Mr. Basketball Finalists
Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic – WINNER
Darien Fernandez, Sr., Wareham
Jameilen Jones, Sr., BC High
Tyler Gibson, Sr., Rockland
Kamari Robinson, Sr., Springfield Central

Defensive Player of the Year – Drew Healy, Lowell
Coach of the Year – John Walsh, Danvers
Best Shooter – Tyler Nelson, Central Catholic
Biggest surprise (player) – Dakari Wornum, Dorchester
Biggest surprise (team) – St. Peter-Marian
Most underrated (player) – David Stewart, Madison Park
Most underrated (team) – Melrose

All-Defensive
G – Tyree Weston, Soph., New Bedford
G – Marcus Middleton, Sr., Stoughton
F – Isshiah Coleman, Sr., New Mission
F – Prince Unaegbu, Sr., Brighton
C – Drew Healy, Sr., Lowell

All-Shooters
Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
Tommy Mobley, Soph., Newton North
Daivon Edwards, Sr., Brighton
Giulien Smith, Soph., Catholic Memorial
Ben Judson, Soph., St. John's Prep

Second half sleepers to watch

Dorchester
The Bears are a streaky team, but also a gritty one, as shown in their 58-57 loss to East Boston on Wednesday. Dakari Wornum has been one of the breakout stars of the first half of the season, but a number of athletic shooters -- including Jeduan Langston, Khalil Newson, Ceejae Agnew-Carter and Dean Lee -- can make this team explode at any moment. The expected return of 6-foot-7 junior D'Bryant Coraprez should bolser the frontcourt too.

Sharon
We knew junior point guard Brian Mukasa (18.8 points per game) was good, and we though he had potential to be this good, but we had questions about the Eagles' supporting cast. Jimmy Fritzon (14.2 points per game) has some answers.

Waltham
Hawks are my favorite to win the Dual County League's Large division, in a year of parity across the board. Keep an eye on Mike Gelineau, one of the area's more underrated shooters.

Case
Most expected Wareham to run away with the South Coast Conference (again), but guess who's sitting at 11-2 and 8-1 in the league? The Cardinals are allowing a league-best 46 points per game, and face Wareham on Wednesday for a first-place battle in the SCC. Keep an eye on 6-foot-8 senior center Matt Plante.

***

Chris Bradley
ESPN Boston correspondent


All-State Super Team
G - Darien Fernandez, Sr., Wareham
G - Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
F - Jameilen Jones, Sr., BC High
F - Kamari Robinson, Sr., Springfield Central
C - Tyler Gibson, Sr., Rockland

Second Team
G - Jaylen Blakely, Sr., Brockton
G - Riyadh Asad, Sr., West Springfield
F - Nick Simpson, Sr., Brighton
F - Nick Cambio, Sr., Central Catholic
F - Brendan Hill, Soph., Mansfield

Third Team
G - Nick McKenna, Sr., Danvers
G - Rod Milton, Sr., Worcester South
F - Sam Dowden, Sr., Andover
F - Isaiah Nelsen, Sr., North Andover
C - Chris Baldwin, Soph., Springfield Central

Girls Super Team
G - Kayla Burton, Sr., Newton South
G/F - Donnaizha Fountain, Sr., Cambridge
G/F - Olivia Healy, Sr., Reading
F - Morgan Lumb, Sr., North Andover
C - Molly Reagan, Soph., Braintree

Mr. Basketball Finalists
Tyler Nelson, Central Catholic - WINNER
Darien Fernandez, Wareham
Jameilen Jones, BC High
Tyler Gibson, Rockland
Kamari Robinson, Springfield Central

Defensive Player of the Year - Isshiah Coleman, New Mission
Coach of the Year - Sean Connolly, St. John’s Prep
Best Shooter - Tyler Nelson, Central Catholic
Biggest Surprise (Team) – Wachusett
Biggest Surprise (Player) – KayJuan Bynum, Springfield Putnam
Most Underrated (Player) – Sam Dowden, Andover
Most Underrated (Team) – Dorchester

All-Defensive
G - Marcus Middleton, Sr., Stoughton
G/F - Nate Anderson, Sr., New Mission
F - Isshiah Coleman, Sr., New Mission
C - Alex Cooper, Sr., Wachusett
C - Drew Healy, Sr., Lowell

All-Shooters
Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
Tim Dufficy, Sr., Whitinsville Christian
Tommy Mobley, Soph., Newton North
Zack Berman, Sr., Wachusett
Jaylen Blakely, Sr., Brockton

Second-half sleepers:

Andover
If Connor Merinder is back in time for the tournament, then consider Andover a favorite in Division 1 North. Central Catholic has clearly separated themselves from BC High, St. John’s Prep, Lowell, and Andover so far, but if Andover gets a healthy, productive Merinder back, they will make a run to the Division 1 North final. The Golden Warriors have gone 10-2 thus far without the 6-foot-5 forward, who is considered one of the MIAA’s best in a loaded 2015 class. Sam Dowden has done a great job of leading Andover so far, but getting a healthy Merinder makes them a legitimate contender to be at the DCU Center come March.

Worcester South
South became the first team to finally knock off previously undefeated Wachusett in Central Mass. The Cononels, who with the win moved to 8-2, did so without junior point guard Kasheen Cunningham, one of the area’s best outside shooters. South has the best scorer in Central Mass. in Rod Milton, a strong young big man in Khalil Bryan-Robinson, and a constant threat from outside in Cunningham—with Central Mass. Division 1 as up in the air as it has been in years, look for South to make a run to the Division 1 finals at WPI.

***

Ryan Kilian
Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Mass. Prep Stars (www.massprepstars.com)


Boys Super Team
G - Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
G - Jameilen Jones, Sr., BC High
G - Malik James, Jr., Brighton
F - Brendan Hill, Soph., Mansfield
C - Chris Baldwin, Soph., Springfield Central

Girls Super Team
G - Morgan Lumb, Sr., North Andover
G/F - Alana Gilmer, Soph., Archbishop Williams
G/F - Donnaizha Fountain, Sr., Cambridge
F - Olivia Healy, Sr., Reading
C - Molly Reagan, Soph., Braintree

Mr. Basketball
Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic

Miss Basketball
Olivia Healy, Sr., Reading

Defensive Player of the Year
Boys: Kendall Hamilton, Sr., Wakefield
Girls: Infiniti Thomas-Waheed, Jr., Newton North

Coach of the Year
Boys: Mike Kasprzak, Melrose
Girls: John McNamara, Pentucket

Best Shooter
Boys: Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
Girls: Morgan Lumb, Sr., North Andover

Biggest Surprise
Boys: Frantzdy Pierrot, Jr., Melrose
Girls: Molly Bent, Soph., Barnstable

Most Underrated Player
Boys: Doug Gemmell, Sr., Central Catholic
Girls: Tess Noguiera, Sr., Pentucket

Most Underrated Team
Boys: Melrose
Girls: Ipswich

Second Half Sleepers

Boys: Wakefield – They have been hanging in the wings with a few losses and have battled some injuries but with a healthy Bruce Brown and continued improved play of Kendall Hamilton, Mikol Blake-Green and others they should be back in the title hunt by the end of the regular season.

Girls: Westford Academy – Westford Academy has played a very difficult schedule, losing to Bishop Feehan, Wachusett and Billerica by a combined five points. They have wins over Lincoln-Sudbury and Arlington Catholic as resume boosters and can play with any team in the state. Juniors Sam Hyslip and Hannah Hackley lead the Grey Ghosts in most statistical categories.

***

Rob Sarmiento
Founder and Editor, Beantown Hoops (www.beantownhoops.com)


First Team
G - Jameilen Jones, Sr., BC High
G - Darien Fernandez, Sr., Wareham
F - Sam Dowden, Sr., Andover
F - Tyler Gibson, Sr., Rockland
F - Doug Gemmell, Sr., Central Catholic

Second Team
G - Jaleel Bell, Sr., Wayland
G - Jaylen Blakely, Sr., Brockton
G - Malik James, Jr., Brighton
G - Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
F - Isaiah Nelsen, Sr., North Andover

Third Team
G - Giulien Smith, Soph., Catholic Memorial
G - Juwan Gooding, Soph., New Mission
G/F - Bruce Brown, Soph., Wakefield
F - Brendan Hill, Soph., Mansfield
F - Nate Anderson, Sr., New Mission

Girls Super Team
G/F - Donnaizha Fountain, Sr., Cambridge
G/F - Olivia Healy, Sr., Reading
G/F - Molly Bent, Soph., Barnstable
G/F - Morgan Lumb, Sr., North Andover
F - Sarah Hope, Sr., Medway

Mr. Basketball - Jameilen Jones, BC High
Miss Basketball - Olivia Healy, Reading
Coach of the Year - Mark Antonelli, Somerville
Best Shooter - Tyler Nelson, Central Catholic
Biggest Surprise (player) - Molly Bent, Barnstable (Girls)
Biggest Surprise (team) - North Reading
Most Underrated (player) - Jaleel Bell, Wayland
Most Underrated (team) - Melrose

All-Shooters
Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
Sam Dowden, Sr., Andover
Sam Bohmiller, Sr., Franklin
Tommy Mobely, Soph., Newton North
Mike Gelineau, Sr., Waltham

Second Half Sleepers

Boys: Franklin - Well-coached and playing in a tough conference will make them battle ready come playoff time. Plus, they have a player who can make threes in bunches with Bohmiller.

Girls: Arlington Catholic - Seem to always make a run and their style of play is tough to prepare for. They are young in some key positions, but first half of the season experience will show during the playoffs.

First month MIAA basketball scouting report

January, 6, 2013
1/06/13
11:04
PM ET
With the majority of teams about a third of the way through their regular season schedule, we reflect on individuals who have stepped up for their team when the lights are bright, underclassmen who have exceeded expectations, and breakout players to keep an eye on for the rest of the season. Included also are comments from opposing MIAA coaches, on the condition of confidentiality.

***

REASSERTING THEIR TALENT

Nate Anderson, 6-7 Sr. F, New Mission
Anderson’s improvement has been well documented this year, especially in his rebounding and effort on the defensive end of the floor. New Mission lacked floor leadership last year, as seen with their early bounce from the Division 2 North tournament, but Anderson has stepped up in a big way this year for the Titans, who have perhaps the toughest schedule in all of MIAA hoops. How far supremely-talented New Mission goes in this tournament this year will ride largely on the shoulders of their senior forward.
Opposing coach’s take: “I always thought Nate was talented and wondered why he never played more. He’s about 6-6, 6-7, which is a center at this level, but he handles the ball and is mobile like a guard. Now that he is a senior and he has become older, more experienced, and is coming out of his shell, I think he has the potential to be dominant.”

Sam Dowden, 6-5 Sr. F, Andover
Expectations were high for Andover coming into this season, with several veteran guards back and one of the area’s more formidable frontcourt duos in Dowden and sophomore Connor Merinder. Merinder has been out of action since mid-December with a wrist injury, and since then Dowden has stepped up in a big way for the Golden Warriors. Andover sits at 5-2, with their only losses coming by a point to top-ranked Central Catholic and by ten to second-ranked Lowell. Dowden has led them in scoring and rebounding thus far, but he and the Warriors have their toughest challenges ahead of them with four MVC teams ranked in the top 15.
Opposing coach’s take: “A matchup nightmare because he can post up against smaller players and is extremely skilled on the perimeter when you try to match up with a bigger player on him. Sam never seems to get rattled or take bad shots during a game. Plays the game the right way and is always a class act on and off the court.”

Tyler Nelson, 6-2 Jr. G, Central Catholic
Nelson is the most dangerous shooter in the state, undoubted and no questions asked, but what has made him stand out so far this year is how versatile he has become. Playing AAU this summer with BABC, Nelson had a significant opportunity to improve his ball handling, his ability to run an offense, and his defensive reliability. At the end of last season Nelson’s name was always came accompanied by remarks about his shooting ability, but he has become one of the better all-around scorers in the area and a reliable floor leader for Coach Rick Nault.
Opposing coach’s take: “I think he's very crafty. I think that he has high IQ. You cannot relax at any time, because he'll knock down three's. If you over-close on him, he's crafty enough to take that extra dribble and get by you and make a play for somebody else or use his pull-up. So that's what I'd say, very crafty, intelligent, high IQ, smart basketball player.”

Derek Collins, 6-1 Sr. G, North Andover
Yes, another sniper from the Merrimack Valley. Collins came back and is having a solid year for the Scarlet Knights after missing the majority of last season with a back injury. North Andover is one of the best teams in Division 2 this year, currently sitting at No. 14 in ESPNBoston.com's poll, and while their strongpoint is in their frontcourt with Isaiah Nelsen and Chris Bardwell, Collins prevents other teams to be able to double down on Nelsen and Bardwell very often because that would leave the sharpshooting Collins open in his favorite part of the floor.
Opposing coach’s take: “Extremely confident player who can take over the game at any point. Derek has learned how to move without the ball which makes him a much more dangerous offensive player. As a 6-2 guard Derek is much bigger and stronger than most guards he matches up with so he is able to to use his size and strength to score in the paint.”

Riyadh Asad, 6-1 Sr. G, West Springfield
Springfield Central got a lot of the pre-season hype following their 24-1 state championship season, starting this season at No. 1 in our preseason poll. However, West Side has emerged in the opening weeks of the season as the potential favorite in Western Mass. Division 1, and Asad is a big reason why. He’s averaging just over 21 points per game and has shown to be one of the best guards in Western Mass. With Central looking particularly unreliable early on, we could be in for an adventure in Western Mass the rest of the way, and if Asad can keep up with his high-scoring efficiency, West Springfield is a team to keep an eye on from here on out.
Opposing coach’s take: “Asad is one of the more talented players in western Mass. His ability to create and make shots is what stood out to me. He's also been working on his off ball movement ( using screens, cutting hard. etc) which will carry over well for him at the next level. Preparing for him you have to tell your team to be prepared at all times because he loves to shoot!”

Brendan Hill, 6-5 Soph. F, Mansfield
Mansfield is one of the favorites to take Division 1 South, and Hill is a big reason why. Also a football star, Hill’s strong hands, crafty footwork, and innate competitiveness have translated to the basketball court this winter season, as perhaps the most reliable player on one of the best teams in the state. Hill got minutes last year as a freshman, but really broke out this summer playing for BABC, where he was able to work on his post moves and improve his outside shot.
Opposing coach’s take: “Brendan Hill is the most unselfish player in the MIAA. I don't know what kid comes off a summer playing with BABC and doesn't demand the ball every possession. He's a raw Pat Connaughton without the athleticism. He can stretch you, suck the help in and make the right kick out almost all the time. He can dominate offensively but has to get stronger to absorb the banging he will have to take in the Hock league.”

***

FRESH ON THE SCENE

Kareem Davis, 5-8 Soph. G, Lowell
Like any sophomore, he needs to continue to hit the weights so that he doesn’t get pushed around by stronger guards, but Davis has proven to be one of the state’s best young point guards. Lowell sits as the second-ranked team in the state right now, with a showdown on Jan. 18 with top-ranked Central Catholic coming up quickly. Going up against one of the state’s best guards in that game in Tyler Nelson, we’ll soon see how for real Davis is.
Opposing coach’s take: “Kareem is an excellent ballhandler who sees the floor well. He has complete confidence in his abilities and isn't afraid of anything. What makes him hard to cover is that not only does he push the ball up the floor so quickly, but he can also shoot.”

Adham Floyd, 6-1 Fr. G, St. John's (Shrewsbury)
In going through the top 25 poll, there are few freshmen, if any, who are bringing more to their team right now than Floyd; through six games, he is the Pioneers’ second-leading scorer with 9 points per game. With senior captain Ken Harrington out injured for the near future, St. John’s will somehow need to make up for that productivity in the backcourt – the crafty freshman will take his lumps, but he’ll be better for it in the Division 1 tournament, where the Pioneers are infamous for out-executing their opponents.
Opposing coach’s take: “Adham is a very talented young man who works hard on his game. He has a very good skill set. He can handle the ball with both hands, he rebounds well and is not afraid to take the big shot. He also plays with poise beyond his years...He is going to be a handful for years to come.”

Ben Judson, 6-4 Soph. F, St. John's Prep
Judson’s coming-out party was Friday night against BC High, where the sharpshooting sophomore led the Prep with 20 points on their way to their most important win of the season -– he had five threes. This St. John’s Prep team has bought into Coach Sean Connolly’s system and has no problem scrapping on defense; if Judson can continue his standout scoring performances, this team is a legitimate contender to knock off Central Catholic in Division 1 North.
Opposing coaches’ take: “He really didn’t get a lot of time last year, they had a lot of older guys and he had to wait his turn. But already this year he has been one of the best shooters in the area. He’s big and long for a guard. If he gets bigger and improves off the dribble, we’re talking about a scholarship-level player.”

Giulien Smith, 6-1 Soph. G, Catholic Memorial
Smith has been the scorer that Catholic Memorial needed this season, especially after the Knights graduated two thousand-point scorers in Dan Powers and Matt Droney. The crafty left-hander has been one of the state’s biggest breakout stars thus far, scoring 21 against Lincoln-Sudbury, 16 against Rhode Island power St. Raphael’s, and exploding for 28 points in a win over Bay State Conference favorite Newton North. The Knights have emerged as a legitimate top 10 team behind Smith, and have the potential to stay in the top 10 from here on out if their high-scoring sophomore can keep up his effort.
Opposing coach’s take: “He’s a terrific player, and is really, really smooth. He shoots it, handles it, gets to the basket, has great poise and a pretty good tempo to he’s game. I think he’s got a big upside.”

***

PLEASANT SURPRISES

Allijah Robinson, 6-7 Jr. F, Charlestown
He’s bounced around high schools, but it appears that Robinson has found his niche and is becoming quite the on-court leader at Charlestown. With forward Freddy Oliviera playing the post, Robinson has had the opportunity to play his more natural position on the wing -– where he can create his own shot and beat defenders to the rim off the dribble.
Opposing coach’s take: “At 6-foot-7, Alijah Robinson is clearly a matchup problem for any opponent in the state. I was impressed by his nice shooting stroke. Once he beefs up a little more and bangs inside more, he will be even more of a force than he already is.”

Charles Collins, 6-0 Sr. G, BC High
On most other teams in the state, Collins would be a star. The Eagles have their scorer in Jameilen Jones, but so far Collins has been the perfect complement to his good friend and backcourt mate. His outside jumper needs improving, but Collins has been a floor general for BC High at point guard, often showing to be an extension of Coach Bill Loughnane on the floor. Because of his high basketball IQ, matched with his gifted athleticism, he is one of the more college-ready prospects in the state.
Opposing coach’s take: “Charles Collins is a consistent jump shot away from being the MIAA’s most versatile player. He can beat you many ways off the drive as well. He is a coaches’ point guard because he can not only put offensive pressure on another team, defensively he can take an opposing teams’ point guard completely out of his game.”

Drew Healy, 6-7 Sr. C, Lowell
Healy can block shots, hit the mid-range jumper, he rebounds at a high rate, and he runs the floor like a deer. Lowell has one of the most talented assortment of guards in the state, and Healy’s low post skills make it difficult for opposing defenses to focus on one or two players. Veteran guards always win ballgames in the MIAA, but when thrown together with a 6-foot-7 big man with standout upper body strength, this Lowell team has state title potential written all over it.
Opposing coach’s take: “Drew is interesting because he is nowhere near Lowell's top option. He played limited minutes in the Greater Lowell Holiday Tournament, but is very effective when he is on the court. He rebounds well and blocks shots well. He would score much more if Lowell focused on him in the paint and got him the ball. I understand why -- Jonathan Perez and the other Kareem Davis are the focus of the team.”

Alex Cooper, 6-6 Sr. C, Wachusett
If you’re Central Mass. team trying to earn respect, the one and only way to do that is to beat St. John’s, and behind Cooper, the Mountaineers did just that, knocking off the Pioneers last week at the Laska Invitational. Cooper’s game isn’t always pretty, but he seems to have a knack for getting it done when Wachusett needs him the most, getting double digits in both points and rebounds in wins over St. John’s and Doherty. Wachusett shot up the polls to No. 8 after beating the Pioneers, but they have plenty of challenges ahead, with Algonquin, Worcester South, Brockton, St. John’s, BC High, and Cambridge still on their regular season schedule.
Opposing coach’s take: “He doesn't get outworked. For what he lacks in skill, he makes up for in hustle, and he leads by example.”

Dakari Hannahwornum, 6-7 Sr. F, Dorchester
26 points and 28 rebounds. Yes, you read that correctly, Dorchester’s standout big man put up 26 and 28 when they beat previously-ranked Madison Park on Dec. 21. Hannahwornum can be an X-factor for the Bears in their run to a Division 2 South title, especially with his ability to take over games from the low block and overpower teams on the glass. Dorchester has been the breakout team in the Boston City League this year, and behind their skilled big man, they have the talent to be in a game with any given team in the state on any given night.
Opposing coach’s take: “He’s raw but has good potential, he needs to go to a juco or a D2 [college] where they can work with him year round. He erases a lot of defensive mistakes by tossing shots away from the rim.”

Recap: No. 2 Lowell 50, No. 11 Andover 40

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
11:26
PM ET
LOWELL, Mass. -- If the Merrimack Valley Conference basketball season is anything like it was during football season, it will be a fight to the finish.

That was exemplified Friday night, when No. 2 Lowell beat No. 11 Andover 50-40 in a defensive slugfest.

Lowell came out sluggish in the first quarter, failing to score a basket for the first 5:30 of the game. Part of that was due to the early play, or lack thereof, of its center Drew Healy (12 points, seven rebounds). He was having difficulty holding on to the basketball and finishing.

“I didn’t come out ready, my head wasn’t in the game,” he said. “I saw the energy and I saw the crowd, and I knew how the game was going to be and I had to react and come out and play like I usually do.”

Lowell (7-0) coach Scott Boyle removed Healy from the game in the middle of the quarter, hoping to light a spark under him. He was put back into the game, and the team’s play changed. Where he was getting boxed out and outmuscled by Andover’s Sam Dowden (10 points, four rebounds) early on, it was Healy who started taking advantage of his positioning and asserting himself underneath.

In the second quarter, Lowell switched away from man-to-man concepts and went to a more traditional zone defense. It was great timing on their part as Andover’s shooters went cold. Lowell took care of the long rebounds and went out in transition and took a lead it would never relinquish.

Lowell took a 20-15 lead into halftime, but Andover (5-2) did not go quietly. Recognizing its need for points, coach Dave Fazio put in Jack Konevich, a left-handed long-range shooter to make some noise behind the three-point line. He hit two quality shots, and around the same time, Andover’s Chris Dunn started to get hot from three. Suddenly, Andover was only down 35-32 heading into the fourth.

The Lowell defense was just too much, however. With costly turnovers turned into transition baskets, including a last-minute dagger three-pointer by Kevin Brito (eight points), Lowell was able to secure the victory.

“It was kind of par for the course, it’s never going to be easy either way in our league,” said Boyle. “We finished the game tonight in the fourth quarter which is important to me, when it was still a back-and-forth game. I just thought they’re a real good team, they’re sound, and I thought it was a real good test for us. We played well on our home court, and you have to win on your home court.”

Flipping the switch: In the second quarter, Lowell switched to a zone defense and Andover could not take advantage. It was as though Lowell was daring the Golden Warriors to shoot from the outside, and it sure did. Andover went 1-for-12 from the field in the quarter.

Healy, mentally and physically in the game at this point after struggling early, consistently outmuscled and out-rebounded his counterpart Dowden, which prevented the possibility of any Andover second chance points. The Red Raiders went on a 9-0 run at the end of the half and go into the break up 20-15.

“They’re a well-coached team and they run great offensive sets,” said Boyle. “We wanted to try and get them out of rhythm. Tonight, it kind of worked for us, and that’s why you take a shot. They’re a great zone team as well, they can shoot the ball, and I thought because we have some length, we had the ability to play a little zone.”

Healy gave Dowden fits for most of the night. Dowden, at 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, is used to being able to use his body effectively underneath the basket to create space and easy baskets. However, against the 6-foot-7 Healy and the tightly-packed Lowell zone, he struggled to find room to maneuver inside, and when he did, often had his shot contested or found himself in a tie-up situation with a swarming Lowell defender.

“Usually we’re just straight man D,” said Healy. “Coach wanted to mix it up tonight because of the matchup differences, and we’ve been working on it in practice the last couple weeks. They missed shots so we just had to box out and play tough.”

Andover’s Dunn (14 points) still hit four 3-pointers in the game, but it was never enough to close the gap on the scoreboard.

Round Two: Sunday, Lowell will have a rematch with New Bedford, a mere 16 days after the Red Raiders 54-point drubbing on its home court. Healy is not expecting it to be nearly as easy this time around.

“We came out and our shooters were on, they were hitting, Kevin (Brito) hit five three’s,” he said. “We just kept pushing it and pushing it, and then we won. This time we expect a bigger challenge, but we’re going to go into the game just like we did every other game. We’re going to go in there and fight, and the best man comes out winning.”

Recap: No. 11 Andover 76, No. 9 N. Andover 63 (OT)

December, 21, 2012
12/21/12
12:44
AM ET
LAWRENCE, Mass. -– With sophomore forward Conner Merinder out with a wrist injury, it was on senior co-captain Sam Dowden to step up in the post and go up against North Andover’s star forwards Isaiah Nelsen and Chris Bardwell on Thursday night for the opening game of the 38th Annual Greater Lawrence Boys Basketball Christmas Tournament.

Merinder, also a goalkeeper on Andover’s soccer team, suffered an injury to his wrist towards the end of the soccer season and was forced to have surgery. So for the time being, it’s on Dowden to match up against each teams’ best post player.

The 6-foot-5 senior was more than up for the task, finishing with 21 points and 10 rebounds and helping rally the Golden Warriors over their border rivals to overtime, where they prevailed, 76-63.

"It's a big win, because we've been playing against them so long," Dowden said. "We've been playing against them since eighth grade."

In a back-and-forth battle with the Scarlet Knights, Andover made its charge late in the fourth quarter. Dowden cut the lead to 56-54 with a put-back, and completing the three-point play with a free throw following a foul. The next trip down, the Warriors' Max Silveira gave them the lead on another three-point play.

Brett Daley then hit a three-pointer with 12 seconds left to cut Andover's lead to 60-59. In the final few seconds, Bardwell went one of two from the charity stripe to tie it at 60 to end regulation.

The overtime session was no contest. Derek Collins’ frustrating shooting night continued, Nelsen looked exhausted from his second half performance, and Bardwell fouled out in the final few minutes to take away any chance the Knights had of coming back. The Warriors’ great shot selection continued into the overtime session, as the wide majority of Andover’s baskets coming in overtime were high-percentage lay ups at the rim.

Overall the Warriors outscored the Knights 16-3 in the bonus frame, capped with a drop-step from Dowden with a minute to go in the frame that gave Andover a 70-62 lead.

“Honestly, I’m proud of our kids," head coach Dave Fazio said. "We’re up 12 and came up and just played a vanilla third quarter. Then we had a fight, they hit a three and we went down five, but it’s like we tell our kids: we have choices, we can either hang our head or [move on to the] next play."

Dowden's duty against the Knights' bigs was no small saddle, but he more than held his own.

Guarding Nelsen, Dowden held the St. Anselm signee to seven first-half points on four shots. Offensively, he showed his whole arsenal of moves, hitting mid-range jumpers of the dribble, finish drop-step and up-and-under moves around the rim, and putting back offensive rebounds, ending the opening half as the game-high scorer with 12 points and his team ahead 29-17.

Also a constant threat on the glass, Dowden made sure to mention that he certainly didn’t do it alone.

“I had to do a good job rebounding tonight,” he said, “But we had two really tough guys in Greg Dreyfus and Ty Verrette. They really do a great job on the boards. They play way bigger than they are.”

It was practically inevitable that Nelsen was going to get his offensive groove going eventually, and he did just that in the third quarter -- finishing every loose offensive rebound in sight and constantly cutting and moving without the ball. In the third quarter alone, Nelsen stung the Warriors for 13 points and 7 rebounds, not missing a field goal or free throw during the entire eight minute stanza.

Dowden’s production was relatively light in the third quarter. After hurting the Knights offensively in the first half, North Andover started collapsing on Dowden every time he touched the ball -– forcing him to kick the ball back out to a guard.

“[The third quarter] was kind of frustrating,” Dowden said, “We like to come out in the third quarter and just jump on teams, and tonight we didn’t. They’re a great team, we knew they were gonna’ make a run at some time.”

Nelsen’s hot hand brought North Andover all the way back from their 12-point halftime defecit, giving the Knights a 37-35 after a big run. Collins hit a three pointer, Bardwell got a couple of isolation touches down low, and North Andover seemed to have the momentum full swing in their direction, especially after Nelsen scored two consecutive baskets on putbacks to increase the lead with just over four minutes to go. But thanks to a three-pointer by John Konevich, the Warriors jumped right back into the game after a big defensive stop on NA’s next possession.

The scary part for future opponents about No. 11 Andover’s upset over their conference foe, is that this is a team that isn’t even at full strength. With Merinder’s comeback lingering in the distance, Fazio couldn’t help but be hopeful damage that the sophomore star and Dowden will have once Merinder comes back.

“That would be a great Christmas present, and that changes everything for us,” he said, “We can put Conner on Nelson, and then we can relieve Sam a little bit. We’ve been asking a lot of Sam...Kid is a four year starter, a Warrior, I’m happy for him.”

Recap: No. 3 Central Cath. 72, Andover 54

February, 17, 2012
2/17/12
12:51
AM ET



LAWRENCE, Mass. -- In this MIAA basketball season of constant surprise, one of the few guarantees was that Central Catholic would live up to its preseason No. 1 billing and head into the Division 1 North tournament as a bona fide favorite.

So maybe this next part is anticlimactic.

Before a capacity home crowd, the Raiders hosted archrival Andover in the finale of its Merrimack Valley Conference slate, and as typical of intense rivalries, the Golden Warriors made a run at them. But the Raiders never trailed from start to finish, eventually rolling away in the fourth quarter to a 72-54 win.

With the win, Central improved to 17-1 and wrapped up its league slate at 14-1 -- the Raiders have already clinched their sixth straight league title. In the last five seasons, the Raiders have lost just three MVC contests -- twice to Lowell (2008, 2012) and once to Andover (2010). The Warriors fell to 11-7 on the season, and finish their league schedule 9-5.

"It means a lot to us," sophomore Tyler Nelson (17 points) said of the league championship streak. "We have a lot of goals this year, and we really want to go out there and make a statement, and try and reach our ultimate goal of reaching the tournament and making a run."

The Raiders led 44-32 at the break, thanks to a perfect first half from Nelson. The point guard was 5-for-5 from the field, including two 3-pointers, and 5-for-5 from the foul line in one of his better first-half performances of the season.

"They didn't play box-and-one like the first time we met them," Nelson said. "So it was a little bit easier getting my shot off, and I was just knocking them down. I felt good from the start, and I knew I was going to keep making them."

But Andover came storming out of the gates to start the third quarter, opening with an 8-0 run. Chris Dunn (20 points) capped the run with a three-pointer that cut the Central lead to 44-40, pulling up to the right wing and letting loose.

That was as close as the Warriors got the rest of the way. Over the final 12 minutes, Central outscored the Warriors 28-14 behind some tough interior play facilitated by junior Joel Berroa (14 points) and sophomore Nick Cambio (11 points, seven rebounds).

"It wasn't the way we wanted to start the second half," Central head coach Rick Nault said. "I don't think we adjusted properly to start that second half. Then I thought we just went inside, and dominated the paint -- not only in scoring, but getting the ball in the post."

Max Silveira also chipped in 15 points for Andover in the loss.

Foul trouble: Central poses many a matchup problem on any given night, particularly when they go with a lineup that has all three of its true bigs -- Berroa, Cambio and junior Doug Gemmell -- on the floor. That was evident tonight against the undersized Andover front, drawing them out of position on plays around the rim, especailly in the first half. Central went to the line for 19 free throw attempts in the first half, making all of them, while Andover attempted just five and made four.

"We feel like when we have the three bigs on the floor together, we feel we've always have a mismatch somewhere," Nault said. "Our focus point is to try to get them the ball, and the fact that we can get fouled and knock them down from the free throw line is huge for us. That's always been the case in the past."

Andover head coach Dave Fazio chose not to say much on the matter, stating simply, "They shot 19 free throws, we shot five. End of statement. It is what it is. Whatever."

Puello on the mend again: It took nearly a month for star senior guard Luis Puello to get back to full strength after going down with a high ankle sprain during the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament in late December. Now, it appears the Raiders will continue to learn how to do without.

Puello, widely considered the state's best on-ball defender, was in street clothes on the bench tonight after re-injuring the same ankle in a 74-46 win over Haverhill last Friday. Nault said there is "honestly no timetable for a return", and estimates a "50-50" chance Puello returns at the starter of the Division 1 North tournament.

In the meantime, junior Lucas Hammel has taken on Puello's familar role of picking up the ballcarrier immediately and marking the best shooters all around the halfcourt.

"We'll take it day by day," Nault said of Puello's injury. "It took him four weeks to come back last time, and he's re-injured that same foot. So, I really don't know."

Dowden down as well: The Warriors have also been missing 6-foot-4 junior forward Sam Dowden, one of their top players, since spraining his ankle in a Feb. 7 win over Lowell. In Tuesday's 54-38 loss to Lowell, Dowden played less than eight minutes, and wasn't getting much push out of the foot.

Fazio considers Dowden "day to day", and has been erring on the side of caution with his recovery.

"If we're playing for a league title tonight, we probably give him a shot and let him run," Fazio said.

Fazio declares team will be 'dangerous': Answering questions about Dowden, Fazio noted the team's upcoming schedule -- a host tournament during February vacation, followed by the Division 1 North sectional -- and declared, "We're going to end up being a dangerous team."

"We're going to put all our pieces together," Fazio said. "We haven't put all our pieces together. The kids are hungry. A lot of teams are winding down in February, they're tired. These kids are hungry, and that says a lot about these guys."

And just what makes them so hungry?

"We've just got great kids, man," Fazio laughed. "We've got great kids like (senior captain) James Costello who pour their heart and soul into it. Sam Dowden's a warrior. We've just got a bunch of great kids who love basketball."

Recap: No. 17 Lawrence 54, Andover 38

January, 27, 2012
1/27/12
11:33
PM ET
LAWRENCE, Mass. -- With just under six minutes to go and his team up by 8 points Friday against Andover, Lawrence’s Tre’von Farley stole the ball around the Andover three-point line and sent a long pass ahead to a sprinting Franklin Martinez.

Seeing no one in front of him, he already knew what he was going to do. He skied to the rim and threw down a one-handed drunk, bringing the home crowd to it’s feet. That put a charge into his team, which stretched its lead to double-digits in the remaining minutes, eventually leaving the gym with a 54-38 victory.

“Once I saw Tre’ get the ball, I ran,” said Martinez, who finished with 11 points, seven rebounds, and three steals. “I wanted it. It was there. I didn’t see anybody on me but I did see someone out of the corner of my eye, but then I was like, ‘Who cares?’ and threw it down.”

With the crowd behind it and a new-found energy, the Lancers (10-3) went into attack mode. On the very next Andover (8-5) possession, Yadoris Arias took the ball away from an Andover player and passed it ahead to Roberto Speing in transition. As he brought the ball into his offensive zone, he passed it to a cutting Farley, who got fouled going up for a layup.

Martinez even kicked up his aggressiveness. For a player perhaps more known for his jump shooting, he started taking the ball strong to the hoop, sometimes taking on as many as three Andover defenders to do it.

“I started taking it to the basket to be aggressive, because I knew that they are too slow, so I started attacking more,” he said. “I was getting hit, and wasn’t always getting calls (from the referees) but it’s okay because at the end of the day, we won.”

It was a productive game for the senior, who is making the most of his playing time this year after failing to see the floor much last season.

“You know what he does well? Not only is he a good shooter, but he gets to the hole and he finishes,” said Lawrence coach Paul Neal. “He has a nice little mid-range game so it’s really hard to cover him. He’s smart enough to know when he’s not hitting those shots, that he can find other ways to score.”

Complete game effort still needed: Although they ended up winning by 16, there’s a feeling within the Lawrence team that it hasn’t put a full game together yet. It puts quarters of good play together, but there hasn’t been a full 32 minutes of quality basketball played yet this season.

For example, Friday it held Andover to 13 points in the entire first half. That was with one player, Sam Dowden, scoring 10 of those 13. He finished with 16 points and 6 rebounds. Then late in the third, its lead was cut to 6 points, only to have it go back over double-digits in the fourth.

As the season rolls along, there are positive signs, but still a lot of team growth necessary, especially as the season begins to wind down.

“We always have one good half, but we haven’t put together a full game yet,” said Martinez. “From the first quarter to the fourth quarter, we haven’t done it yet. But in the fourth quarter, we always seem to come together and we seem to end up good. In the third quarter every team comes back so in the fourth quarter we just push and play more defense. Tonight in the third quarter we didn’t really play defense. It’s like we get the lead so we just slack off. In the fourth quarter, we always end up picking it up.”

Even sheet: One of the encouraging signs for Lawrence is there was no one standout scorer. Multiple players contributed to what Neal felt was a team effort. Farley lead the way with 13 points, but Martinez was right behind him with 11, while Arias had 10, and Argenis Reinoso had 6.

“It was a balanced night offensively,” said Neal. “When you have a balanced team, people can’t scout and prepare for you. Who are you going to prepare for? Who’s the big scorer? Who are you going to stop? If they all have around the same amount of points, you can’t. I like that better. I like when we score with balance and no one guy dominates. We certainly have the potential for some guys to take over on any night, but I think tonight if we did that, we might not have won the game.”

Fueled by loss: Rarely ever will a coach admit that a loss is a good thing, but in Lawrence’s case, it might have just been one. Coming into it’s Sunday matchup against Boston Cathedral, Lawrence was 8-2 and riding high in the Merrimack Valley Conference Large behind only Central Catholic. The Lancers lost 73-69 that day, showing the team that their record may not have been indicative of where they were as a team.

“A loss is never good, but I think it really shifted their mindset,” said Neal. “I think they were starting to believe that we were really good, and we’re not good. We’re a team that has to work hard to be good. For us to win, we need hard work, and I couldn’t get them to practice hard. Even going into the Lowell game (a 62-57 win on Jan. 20) we went in really frustrated.”

“The practice after that Cathedral game was terrific. We played defense. In the game after that we held Tewksbury to 24 points (in a 63-24 victory). I don’t care who you’re playing against, if you can hold them to 24 points, you must have played well defensively.”

Recap: No. 2 Central Cath. 61, Andover 51

January, 7, 2012
1/07/12
12:27
AM ET



ANDOVER, Mass. –- Andover gave it the good old college try, but their archrivals No. 2 Central Catholic dominated the third quarter and shattered the Golden Warriors hope of an upset, winning 61-51 tonight.

“They kept giving us different looks and we were out of wack a little bit,” said Central-Catholic coach Rick Nault. “Trying to get Tyler [Nelson] into the offense, he’s been our leading scorer all year. Tonight, they did a tremendous job on him.”

Andover’s Sam Dowden opened up the game with two free throws and from there until the end of the first half, Andover and Central Catholic would play follow the leader. Tied at 25 late in the second quarter, James Costello made two of his five first quarter free throws to put Andover up 27-25 at the half.

In fact, 13 of Andover’s 27 points in the first half came from the free throw line, the only missing coming on the last of three shots taken by junior guard Max Silveira after being fouled behind the arc.

In the third quarter, the Raiders got busy. Scoring 17 straight points, Central Catholic opened up a substantial lead for the first time in the game, a wound from which Andover could not recover.

“They’re a good team,” said Andover coach David Fazio. “They’re tough man-to-man. They get up in you.”

The Golden Warriors closed out the third quarter down by nine at 45-36, and twice in the fourth quarter they were able to come within eight at 49-41, Central Catholic turned up the heat on defense and would not allow Andover to get within striking distance, remaining undefeated at 7-0.

Going Hard in The Paint… And Behind the Arc: Doug Gemmell scored 22 points, with 15 of those coming from behind the three-point line. Although Gemmell grabbed six rebounds, made two steals and with his wide frame helped to slow down traffic in the lane on defense and take up space on the offensive end, allowing his teammates to out rebound Andover, his stroke from deep was smooth, showcasing a very diverse talent on both ends of the floor.

Four Quarters: Central Catholic won the game, but as the number three team in the state, the defensive showing in the first half was not indicative of their potential. Free throw opportunities that Andover was able to capitalize on in the first quarter kept them in the game, and Central continued to foul the Golden Warriors, allowing them to keep the game close.

In the third and fourth quarter, aggressive and craftier defensive play by Central Catholic kept Andover away from the line (5 opportunities in the second half compared to seven in the first half) and the ball out of the basket to maintain their winning lead.

Doug Gemmell didn’t have an explanation for why the Raiders picked up the defense and how they could manifest that same effort in the first half to definitively put some distance between teams early on, but that doesn’t mean he is not going to focus on it in the future.

“It starts with our defense,” said Gemmell. “We have to come out in the first half, just denying everything. One pass away and help side defense.”


LaFrancis steps up, leads A-B past Andover

March, 2, 2011
3/02/11
12:23
AM ET



ACTON, Mass. -- Twenty-four hours before his Acton-Boxborough squad was set to host Andover in a first-round battle between two Division 1 North sleepers, Colonials head coach Rick Kilpatrick had some sound advice for his 6-foot-6 junior center. Namely, with at least a three-inch height advantage over anyone else on the floor, he was going to have to step up and dominate.

Suffice it to say, with the Golden Warriors doing everything they could to shut down star guard Sam Longwell, Kevin LaFrancis seized the moment. He turned in arguably his best performance of the season, with 21 points and 16 rebounds, as the Colonials held off a furious Andover rally to win going away, 68-54, in this D1 North first round game.

The No. 6 seed Colonials (19-3) move on to the quarterfinals, where they will visit No. 3 Lynn English (20-2) at a date to be determined. English knocked off Everett tonight, 68-57.

"We did a really good job of getting the ball inside to Kevin," Kilpatrick said. "We work on post feeds every day. We knew we were going to have a size advantage in this game, and I thought our guys responded, took care of the ball and got it to him."

Asked what his reaction would have been had he been told before the game that they'd win going away, with star guard Sam Longwell (eight) bottled up most of the night, LaFrancis smiled and took it in stride.

"I would have said Wes [Schroll] had 42 points," he laughed, referring to the Colonials' other dynamic playmaker who finished with 18 points and six boards. "No but, they focused their gameplan on Sam, so when they do that, other guys have got to step up. And I think Wes and I did that tonight. Dana Flood came up with some big three's. We all just came together."

Trailing 14-13 after one quarter of play, the Colonials outscored the Warriors 20-6 over the next stanza to take a 13-point halftime lead, aided by back-to-back three-pointers by Longwell and Joey Flannery (10 points).

But the biggest facet keying the run was unquestionably their ability to deliver seamless entry passes to the paint. On some possessions, it was LaFrancis moving out to the wing and hitting a player right on his hands as he came off a screen. Other times, LaFrancis merely backed down his defender in the post, diverting attention in the Warriors' 2-3 zone or simply going up with it to draw contact.

The Colonials also helped their first-half cause on the glass, outrebounding the Warriors 21-9 -- including eight from LaFrancis.

"We were just getting every rebound," LaFrancis said. "Our guards did a great job boxing out. I think we had five on the glass, and they weren't making their shots. That was the key to our run.

Indeed, it was a miserable first half for Andover star Joe Bramanti (26 points), to say the least -- the Merrimack Valley Conference MVP went a pedestrian 2 for 9 from the field in the first 16 minutes. But a player with Bramanti's talents doesn't stay cold forever.

The 6-foot-3 senior exploded for 13 points, hitting 4 of 5 from the field, nailing all five of his free throws, and throwing down one monster one-handed running dunk that put the Andover supporters on their feet. Bramanti's resurgence, along with a series of turnovers caused with various presses -- 1-3-1, 1-2-2 and man the most prevalent -- eventually cut A-B's lead to five at several points early in the fourth quarter.

All this, in spite of many of its players in foul trouble -- especially James Costello, who sat with three in the first half before fouling out, and sophomore Sam Dowden, who faced similar struggles.

"I just told the kids, if you're going to go out like that, after playing 20 games against the perennial powers of Massachusetts, that's a sad way to go out," head coach Dave Fazio said. "You know, it's a sad way to go out. We didn't even swing the bat in the first half. And then in the second half...as always, these kids are warriors. They fought, they kept coming back...I'm proud of the fact my kids didn't roll over in the second half. I knew they wouldn't, I just didn't know if we'd have enough legs."

Bramanti's two free throws cut the Colonials' lead to 51-46 with 5:30 to go, but that was as close as the Warriors would reach. With time running out, they resorted to a slew of errant long-range perimeter shots, which A-B players rebounded and took a foul to go to the line.

BRAHMA BULL

Bramanti put the exclamation point on his revamped scoring touch with the most electric play of the night. From halfway down the paint from the free throw line, the hard-charging senior -- sometimes nicknamed "The Bull" -- lifted off and dunked the ball home with authority, letting out a war cry and flexing his arms to the crowd. While it only cut the lead to 41-29 in the third, it proved a pivotal point in momentum for Andover as it mounted a comeback.

And once again, it goes to show the 6-foot-3 all-everything's potential has at the next level. Bramanti has drawn interest from Division 1 schools such as The Citadel and Dartmouth, while a handful of Northeast-10 schools are also recruiting his services.

"He's gonna be a great college player, there's no doubt about that," Fazio said. "This is going to sting him for a while. But the sky's the limit, and as a coach you want to win a state title, do all the great things, but more importantly you want to do right by the kids. And that kid has gone from a boy to a man in four years at Andover High School, and all in all that's probably the most important thing."

Brendan Hall is a High School Editor for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Bramanti delivers in Comcast consolation

February, 20, 2011
2/20/11
11:45
PM ET
DORCHESTER, Mass. –- It just didn’t feel like a consolation game at the Comcast IAABO Board 27 Tournament, at Boston College High School's McNeice Pavilion. Andover coach Dave Fazio even said it himself.

“You play in this tournament and it’s all about pride,” said Fazio. “So any game you play in any tournament against a quality team like Newton North is all about pride. We try to instill in our kids that it doesn’t matter whether its checkers or chess, it doesn’t matter, if you play in something competitive, you always play to win. That’s what it’s all about.”

And they did indeed play to win. The Golden Warriors bounced back from Saturday’s tough loss against St. John’s Prep to beat Newton North in a 75-66 win.

In the first 45 seconds of the game, sophomore Sam Dowden knocked down two three-pointers to give Andover a solid six point lead for the entire first quarter. Then, in the second quarter, Andover’s star Joe Bramanti scored 15 of his team’s 21 points to put his team up by 13. At this point, it looked as though it was Andover’s game for the taking. It was not, however, even close to being over.

After a Tevin Falzon basket with a foul to finish the second quarter, and a Luke Westman dunk to start the third, Newton North took the momentum back. Powered by Michael Thorpe’s 19 third-quarter points -- including three acrobatic three-pointers -- the Tigers went on a 20-6 run to take the lead at 51-46.

“That’s the player that I’ve been waiting for all season long,” Newton North head coach Paul Connolly said. “Michael has only averaged 13 points per game this year. He hasn’t shot the ball well. We’ve been a different team this year. That’s the level he’s capable of playing at. That’s what we need. Your leading scorer needs to play like that in the tournament. Mike had a period there where he was phenomenal but you know, they have Joe Bramanti, and he took over the game."

Said Bramanti, who only scored two points in the third, “After [Thorpe] hit the third three-pointer, coach put me on him just to contain him and keep him out of his rhythm. Once someone catches fire like that, they are just going to keep going and going and going so you just put the clamps on him and hope he doesn’t keep going.”

Andover decided to then take a page out of Newton North’s book. Coach Fazio told his team to get the ball to Joe, and it turned out that was the right decision. Bramanti went off for 21 fourth-quarter points on various drives, three-pointers, and 11 free throws.

“[Getting to the line] is definitely a big part of my game," Bramanti said. "I was really trying to facilitate early on, but when we got down to the fourth quarter it was necessary for me to get to the line. We needed a break, and those are easy points."

Bramanti finished with 38 points, going nine for 16 from the field (including three 3-pointers) and stayed perfect from the line by sinking 17 free throws.

“This is a big win for us. This is a big win for our program,” said Fazio. “You’ve got to remember, the last two we lost was probably to the number one team in the state and the number two team in the state. Those two losses were against two really good teams. I think we have the best schedule in New England. We play against everyone. It was another great fight by our kids.”

Future Reference

-- While Bramanti may be known as the star for Andover right now, keep your eyes on junior James Costello. Costello finished with 20 points. Whether he was using his mean jab step to get by his man or jumping over defenders for offensive rebounds, there is no doubt that Costello is a unique player. At 6-foot-3, he does not have a true position but is the type of athletic player that every team could use. His coach and teammate would agree.

“I think these past few games, [James] has been tremendous,” said Bramanti. ”He’s been stepping up big time. He’s definitely progressed exponentially. I think it is good for him to have two good games for our game Thursday night against Brockton.”

“He is playing better and better," Fazio said. "He is going to be phenomenal. Hopefully, he’s going to carry the torch from Bramanti.”

-- For those of you making your predictions for the MIAA playoffs, coach Connolly shed some light on who he thinks will be the most successful teams. After having a surprisingly early exit last year, Connolly thinks the teams with the best guards are the most dangerous.

“Hurley took over the game against us yesterday," Connolly said. "Pat Connaughton is capable of taking over games. When you have a player who can take over a game with the ball in his hands, you are dangerous. We had Greg [Kelley] last year but it’s different when you have a big guy. Those are the guys who will make the big tournament runs."

Career-defining shot for Alicea, No. 20 Lawrence

January, 27, 2011
1/27/11
1:06
AM ET



LAWRENCE, Mass. -- The post-game assortment of handshakes and daps complete, and the half-filled Lawrence High gymnasium filing out, Jaylen Alicea couldn't help but glance back on the court one last time and watch as some of his fellow Lawrence classmates spilled onto the court and began lining up at the spot atop the key where, seconds earlier, he sent the place into frenzy.

"Seems like people look up to me," the Lancers' senior floor general smiled sheepishly. "I guess they admired the shot. Probably not as much as I did, though. That shot means the world to me."

After all, this was a career-defining moment for the 5-foot-10 senior, who struggled mightily from the field but stepped up without hesitation in the biggest moment of the No. 20 Lancers' game with Merrimack Valley rival No. 5 Andover last night. With 3.7 seconds left and the shot clock on its last tick, Alicea rolled off a screen, pump-faked one of the state's premier defenders as he gathered the ball at the top of the key, and nailed the three-pointer to deliver a 59-56 win for Lawrence (9-4).

This wasn't exactly a perfect night for Alicea, who finished with nine points on 4 of 14 from the field -- including 1 for 7 on three's. And 30 seconds earlier his defender, highly-touted senior guard Joe Bramanti, almost delivered the win for the Golden Warriors (8-3) after stripping the ball from Alicea as he caught a pass up top. With the open court, the 6-foot-3 Bramanti drove down the lane, and was fouled as he sank the layup for a 56-56 tie, but missed the ensuing free throw.

But with time winding down, and facing overtime, the Lancers drew up a play that was initially supposed to go inside to 6-foot-6 center Jesse Hiraldo (10 points, 11 rebounds). When the play broke down, senior guard Darwin Pereyra paused for a few seconds at the right wing before instinctively throwing it back out top to Alicea for the winner.

Bramanti (19 points) then rushed up a half-court shot that clanked off the rim as the buzzer sounded.

"I mean, you know, he didn’t play well offensively all game, and we kept telling him to stay with it, stay with it, stay with it," Lawrence head coach Paul Neal said. "And at the end, they executed. They got him a screen, and he got a wide open shot and he knocked it down. You know, big win for us, big win for the program. Confidence-wise, it was good for Jaylen, as our leader, to get a win for us."

Said Alicea, "They couldn’t get him (Hiraldo) the ball, so I had to do what I had to do, and I got open for them. And as soon as I got the ball, I knew it was my time, that I had to shoot the ball, and I didn’t play well this game. That was the biggest shot I hit all day, and it means the world to me."

From tipoff, this was a back and forth game with slim leads. With under three minutes to go, Alicea crossed up his defender on the left wing and sunk a 16-footer for a 56-51 lead, the largest of the game. Down at the other end, Craig Luschenat (14 points) closed the lead to 56-54 with three free throws, followed by Bramanti's steal and layup.

All game long, the Warriors found ways to combat Lawrence's size advantage, to great results. Six-foot-two sophomore Sam Dowden (11 points) did the dirty work down low, facing the big-bodied Hiraldo man-up, and the Warriors held a 10-2 advantage on offensive rebounds in the first half. To manufacture points, the Warriors repeatedly used handoffs to create quick screens for their swift-triggered shooters; they also had success in drawing Hiraldo out of the blocks and slipping behind him, but players like Yadoris Arias showed poise in deflecting passing lanes.

Lawrence led 27-26 at the break, and 44-42 headed into the final stanza. Andover took two brief leads in this one, including one with four minutes left when Dowden converted a three-point play off an inbounds pass, for a 49-48 lead.

From an emotional standpoint, this was quite the yo-yo.

"Brutal, but it’s great. It’s a fight," Andover head coach Dave Fazio said. "I mean, that’s what it’s about, it’s a good fight. You know, they hit us with the last shot, and I got the best defender in the state on the kid. So, at the end of the day, it’s OK. It’s a great game, it’s a great experience for our kids, and we’re just going to get better, you know."

And for Alicea, it was the good kind of emotional.

"Andover’s a great team," he said. "We just know they come out to play hard every day, every game we play them. We haven’t beaten them since I was a sophomore, so this means a lot to me, to my coach, to the people of Lawrence. Everything."

Freshman Nelson seals round two for Central

January, 8, 2011
1/08/11
10:47
PM ET
LAWRENCE, Mass. -- What is the difference between the Central Catholic and Andover boys’ basketball teams? On the year, six points, advantage Central Catholic on the heels of their 64-55 win tonight. The victory was retribution for the Raiders, as the Warriors served them with a 55-52 loss during the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament last week.

“There’s not a whole lot that separates these two teams right now,” head coach Rick Nault said. “We’ve got them one more time, and we’ll find out in round three who’s on top” he added, referring to the February 17th matchup at Andover.

With 2:00 left in the game and down by 10, Andover’s Sam Dowden (nine points, eight rebounds) missed his first free throw and made the second, leaving the score at 55-46. On the following possession, Central Catholic (7-1) freshman Tyler Nelson threw one up from behind the line and missed.

“Why did he do that?” yelled a Central supporter from the stands.

Andover’s James Costello got the rebound and down the other end, Joe Bramanti (11 points, five rebounds) went to the rack, was fouled as he scored, and made the free throw to bring Andover within six at 55-49.

With the Andover (6-2) crowd reinvigorated and having scored on the last two possessions, the making of a comeback was in the air. Up six, against their biggest rival, the Raiders give the ball back to Nelson.

Why?

“He’s our second leading scorer on the team as a freshman,” said Nault of Nelson, whose trey, his only score on the day, made it a nine point game, the difference in the game at the buzzer. “He really has a ton of confidence in himself… that may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

“They have faith in me,” said Nelson of his teammates. “And they know that I can hit a shot when they need someone.

“I’m a shooter.”

Senior captain Jimmy Zenevitch led the Raiders with 18 points and added eight rebounds.

“Last week, we came out with no intensity,” said Zenevitch. “This week, today we did our best to deny the ball and finish on defense. Defense is what sets us off.”

Andover coach Dave Fazio was very clear on what he thought the difference was.

“Defensive rebounds. That’s the game,” said Fazio. “We gave up probably 20 defensive rebounds and that’s our biggest deficiency. Until we can figure that piece out, we’re going to lose those tight games.”

Central Catholic's 6-foot-4 sophomore Joel Berroa was one of the culprits, grabbing 11 rebounds and adding seven points, including a three pointer in the first half.

“I was actually just playing my game,” said Berroa, who felt no pressure, even though coach Nault advised him to get 17 points and 13 rebounds. “The shots weren’t going in, and I was like, ‘Let me just get my rebounds, play some defense and do the best I can.’”

Junior Luis Puello, who scored five of his 11 points in the fourth quarter, was pleased with the outcome in tonight’s game.

“The difference between the last two minutes over there and the last two minutes over here is that we thought we could go for a win and everything was going to be OK,” said Puello. “Here, we made it happen.”

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