Boston High School: Sean Sweeney

D1 Central: St. John's (S) 61, St. Peter-Marian 59

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3
1:43
AM ET
WORCESTER, Mass. –- Just when it looked as if St. Peter-Marian might finally get past archrival St. John’s in the Division 1 tournament, the Pioneers had one more comeback up their sleeve.

In front of an electric, standing room-only crowd at Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Harrington Auditorium on Sunday night, the Pioneers overcame a seven point halftime deficit to knock SPM out of the Division 1 Central tournament for the second time in three years, sealing a 61-59 victory via two free throws by senior captain Charlie Murray with ten seconds left.

“I never look at the guy at the free throw line, 'cause it doesn’t do you any good,” St. John’s coach Bob Foley joked after the game, “He’s a kid who sometimes struggles from the free throw line, but our kids have the confidence to put the chips on the table and put those [free throws] in...and he put those right down the middle.”

Murray, the Pioneers’ “energy-guy” who is known for his ferocity on the defensive glass and his ability to get to the free throw line, got to the free throw line in the closing moments following a perfect no-look pass from sophomore Adham Floyd (14 points).

“It’s hard, it’s definitely hard,” said of the pressure of hitting the free throws, “Just a lot of practice. It’s great that I got to the line and made the free throws, hard work pays off, but at the end of the day it takes the hard work of all 15 of us to get where we are now. It’s great I made them, but I wouldn’t be able to do it without anyone else.”

Floyd leads Pioneer defense: Floyd, who suffered a serious injury to his knee last spring, helped anchor a second half where St. John’s was able to dictate the pace of the game. The Pioneers struggled to keep up with Guardians’ star sophomore Makai Ashton-Langford (25 points) in the first half, but Foley made the decision to go to a man defense in the second half.

The decision paid dividends quickly for St. John’s, as they forced turnovers on the first three SPM possessions of the second half. Following each turnover, the Pioneers added two points quickly on the other end. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the Guardians’ lead had disappeared.

“It’s a chess match. We had played zone most of the first half and came out man-to-man, and played a whole lot of man-to-man in the second half. You never know what’s going to work until you try it in a game, you just have to bounce back and forth,” Foley said.

Floyd made two big stops for the Pioneers in the closing moments of the game, blocking a putback attempt by SPM senior Connor Brown that would have put the Guardians ahead. After he found Charlie Murray in the post and Murray converted the free throws at the other end, it was on Floyd to stop Ashton-Langford, one of the best scorers in the state, from getting a basket.

“I thought Adham Floyd did a great job, he played great defense coming off a bad knee injury. His speed isn’t there yet but he’s so good with his hands and getting his hand on the ball,” Foley said.

Murray added: “[Floyd] stepped up, he had a great game. Even on that last play, he made that drive and made a great dish to me – very unselfish. He’s a great player, he played hard today.”

The streak continues: The win puts the Pioneers in the Central Mass. Division 1 title game this coming week against Franklin. The game will be St. John's seventh consecutive appearance in the Division 1 Central title game. As a program they have made the championship game 31 times. Foley was quick to point out that not all of those championship games were his teams, but getting deep into the tournament all those times has given him plenty of experience in tuning out crowds.

“You pray a lot,” Foley said with a laugh, “I don’t hear the crowd, I never hear the crowd at the game because I focus on what’s happening. It’s no problem for me, you’re just hoping that your kids do the right thing. I thought we just did everything right at the end of the game.”

They’re a great group of kids, they hung together. It’s a game that just drains you emotionally, physically, and whatever, but they hung in there at the end.”

Floyd agreed, saying that the Pioneers’ confidence in Foley’s gameplan was the difference down the stretch:

“We just listen to coach. It comes with confidence...and being a team. I think we’re a better team than them, we stayed together.”

Far from his first appearance at WPI, Murray said the Pioneers are motivated to avenge their loss to Milford in last year’s Central Mass. final.

“We’re back, it seems to be a habitual thing, but I’m just happy I get to play another game with these guys. I love the team I’m on.”

TJ Kelley and Davon Jones scored 13 and 12 points, respectively, while Greg Kuakumensah contributed 13 points for the Guardians.

Recap: No. 18 SPM 64, No. 7 St. John's (S) 57

January, 25, 2014
Jan 25
12:36
AM ET
WORCESTER, Mass. – Having lost five of its last six games going into Friday night’s showdown with Central Mass. Conference rival St. John’s, St. Peter-Marian had hopes that its brutally tough schedule the past couple weeks would benefit in the end.

On Friday the Guardians, led by sophomore phenom Makai Ashton-Langford’s 26 points, did what they were unable to do on the road against St. John’s (12-2) a few weeks ago -- put the Pioneers away in the closing minutes. The result, a 64-57 victory for the St. Peter-Marian (6-5).

St. Peter-Marian suffered a devastating loss on Jan. 7 against the Pioneers, blowing an 11-point lead with three minutes to go. As if SPM didn’t have reason enough to circle this game on their schedule, losing to St. John’s in dramatic fashion only added fuel to the fire.

“We were hungry for this game, we’d been looking forward to this game ever since we lost to them,” Ashton-Langford said. “After we lost to them the first time we kind of went into a little slump, we were just inexperienced down the stretch. With four minutes to go we gave up…we knew that couldn’t happen again.”

In the past few weeks the Guardians have played against some of the state’s best teams, including the heartbreaking loss to No. 24, St. John’s three weeks ago, as well as losses to No. 1 Putnam, No. 6 Catholic Memorial and No. 9 Cambridge.

Though a tough stretch for the Guardians, the schedule gave them an opportunity to come together and fix their mistakes in a hurry. Their coach has seen progress each game, yet every loss too was a fresh reminder that the young Guardians weren’t quite “there” yet.

“We had a five game stretch where we played one of the toughest schedules in Central Mass.," SPM coach Marcus Watson said. "Through those lumps and bumps and lessons, we learned. We learned last time against St. John’s with four minutes to go up 11, that we can give a game away. It was these kids learning, persevering, and coming together as a group.”

Brown, Sweeney bring the hustle: Seniors Connor Brown and Sean Sweeney brought just the mentality that Watson had been looking for against St. John’s. The two each made several hustle plays that eventually swung the score in the Guardians’ direction.

Sweeney helped set the tone early in the first half, first diving out of bounds to save a ball that would have otherwise resulted in a St. Peter-Marian turnover. Minutes later, it was Sweeney who dove on the floor to beat St. John’s point guard Davon Jones to a loose ball, drawing a roar from the Guardians’ fan section.

“We’ve talked about [hustle] from day one, but they’re the ones that have to go out and do it. Sean, to get on the floor for the loose ball and kick it up the court to someone else who got fouled—that’s tremendous,” Watson said.

Brown had plenty of hustle plays as well, on several occasions diving on the floor for the loose ball or jumping to save a ball that was bouncing out of bounds.

His biggest play came with about 45 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. Up 59-54, Brown pulled up for a jumper to beat the shotclock, then got into the lane to pick up his own rebound to reset the clock and give SPM an opportunity to burn even more time off the clock -- much to his coach’s delight.

“And again, those are all thing we learned through our five losses. The kids realize that every time we step on the floor we’re going to get the other team’s best shot,” Watson said. “We’ve learned from our mistakes. We run a lot of drills running out the clock and executing...We’ve really prepared, through our losses, how to deal with things.”

Murray cleans up the glass: The Guardians were able to keep St. John’s forwards Alex Fisher and Drew Vittum very quiet, but they couldn’t do the same to Charlie Murray. Finishing with 13 points and 13 rebounds, Murray proved to be one of the most impactful players on the floor, using his body to create space and finish through contact in the paint.

Sophomore Adham Floyd, who is still adding strength after seriously injuring his knee during last spring’s AAU season, had perhaps his best game of the season, knocking down two treys and backing up Murray with 13 points of his own.

“Give St. John’s credit, they’re not gonna’ roll over and die. We jokingly said you have to be up by 30 to win by two,” Watson said, “I have nothing but respect for that locker room and for Coach Foley and all he does for those kids. This is a great win, but it’s just another win, just another game for us.”

Recap: No. 7 CM 71, No. 11 SPM 68

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6
1:31
AM ET


WORCESTER, Mass. -– Following last week’s road loss to Newton North, Catholic Memorial coach Denis Tobin was looking for his team to turn in a much better performance the next time they put on the Scarlet Red away uniforms.

Tobin got just that on Sunday night, when his Knights knocked off No. 11 St. Peter-Marian (4-1) on the road for a 71-68 victory.
Led in scoring by sophomore Brandon Twitty (15 points) and captains Guilien Smith (15 points) and Gerard Adams (13 points, 11 rebounds), the Knights (5-1) were able to withstand a late rally by SPM to seal the victory in the closing moments of the game.

“This our second time on the road wearing the red, [and] we didn’t do a good job the first time, so we had to respond tonight. I thought we did,” Tobin said.

The Knights jumped out to a couple quick, early leads, but the Guardians, led by sophomores Makai Ashton (24 points, 7 rebounds) and Greg Kuakumensah (18 points, 9 rebounds), on several occasions fought their way back into the game to dwindle the lead down to two or three points.

Adams dominated the paint in the first half, finishing some pinpoint passes from Smith or super quick point guard Aamahne Santos (10 points). After a second quarter run by SPM, the Knights were able to extend the lead to 39-32 by halftime.

“I thought this was the first team that ran with us," Tobin said. "In the first half our defense was solid, we held them to like 32 points, that puts them on pace at 64, which is what we want. I thought fatigue set in on both teams in the second half, and the defense let up by both teams -- easy baskets were scored."

It certainly looked like fatigue got the best of CM early in the second half, when a run fueled by Ashton and forward Sean Sweeney (8 points, 6 rebounds) helped to bring the lead down to 48-45. However, a 10-4 run put the Knights in the drivers’ seat with six minutes to go.

Santos pushes the tempo: It seemed like every time Catholic Memorial was out of sync against St. Peter-Marian, Santos was there to get his team back on track, push the tempo, and create easy scoring opportunities for others in transition. An athletic, quick-footed point guard who will generally rack up more assists than points despite his scoring prowess, Santos was the catalyst for much of Catholic Memorial’s offensive success on Sunday.

“You can’t simulate what they do as far as makes and misses, pushing the ball in transition. It’s hard to simulate that. However, we just did a poor job at times of locating our man and getting back in rotation,” Guardians coach Marcus Watson said. “Overall, the Santos kid is really tough...I think Guilien Smith is a stud, and [Brandon] Twitty is only a sophomore. They’re loaded, they’re absolutely loaded. It’s a good test for us, it shows us where we’re at and what we need to work on.”

The fast pace CM plays with is no coincidence. After skill work early in practice, the Knights will follow that up with Tobin’s version of conditioning: scrimmages.

By putting an emphasis on tenacious ball pressure defensively and pushing the tempo offensively, the coach has turned his squad into creatures of habit. When SPM started missing shots at the end of the game, it was Santos who caught the outlet passes and flew up the court for two acrobatic lay-ups to seal the win.

The difference between the Newton North loss and the win over St. Peter-Marian?

“We allowed Newton North to slow us down, and we played fast the whole night tonight,” Tobin said. “We have to impose our will and play fast all the time.”

Sophomores shine: Between the impressive performances from Ashton, Twitty, and Kuakumensah, there was certainly no lack of sophomore talent on the floor in Worcester on Sunday night. Matt Hanna (9 points) and Kellan Grady (6 points), both sophs from CM, made some solid contributions for the Knights. Impressed by the play of Twitty off the bench, Tobin praised his 6-foot-1 guard after the game, comparing Twitty to former "Bad Boy" Detroit Piston Vinnie Johnson.

“He’s a terrific scorer, he’s our sixth-man. He reminds me of Vinnie Johnson, 'The Microwave', he heats up immediately once he steps on the floor,” Tobin said. “He’s a great weapon for us to have. As our starters wear down and the other team [as well], we’re coming in with a kid who can really score.”

Ashton fought to bring the Guardians back in the fourth quarter, while Kuakumensah -- brother of current Brown University forward Cedric Kuakumensah -- dazzled the crowd with some high-rising dunks, rebounds, and blocks.

“I think they’re definitely showing what they’re capable of doing, but I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. Some decision-making down the stretch kind of hurt a little bit, but you cannot take away their heart, their competitiveness, and just their desire and will to compete,” Watson said. “Makai definitely has the keys to the car…when he’s out of control, we’re out of control, and when he’s in control, we’re much better.”

It was those turnovers, questionable decisions, and errant three-point attempts, though, that ultimately got the best of the Guardians toward the end of the game.

“I think it was a lack of gametime experience down the stretch," Watson said. "We’ve beaten down on some teams early in the year, and this was a test. We settled for threes when we could have still attacked the basket...It’s one of those things you’re going to learn from, it’s going to help us get better down the road."

The young Knights looked discouraged by their play after the game, despite coming through with the close victory. While Tobin acknowledges that there are adjustments to be made, he chose to keep it positive after his team picked up a tough road win.

“They were sitting in there and some of them were down because we turned it over a lot," Tobin said. "I told them ‘smile, this is a great win. We just beat a very solid team in their own gym,’ and then they smiled and let up a bit.”

Recap: No. 25 SPM 74, No. 19 Charlestown 66

January, 13, 2013
1/13/13
2:37
AM ET


PAXTON, Mass. -– Add this one to the growing list of games St. Peter-Marian wasn’t supposed to win.

The underdog Guardians’ second half run earned them a 74-66 over a bigger, more talented, and more athletic Charlestown squad, before a capacity crowd at Anna Maria College. This is St. Peter-Marian’s third win over a top 25 opponent in the last six days, a feat no other team in the state has accomplished at any point this year.

Junior Connor Brown shot the lights out for St. Peter-Marian, knocking down five threes on his way to 22 points. In moving to 9-1 overall, Brown is the Guardians’ fourth different leading scorer this season.

Charlestown dominated early on in this one. Taris Wilson got to the rim nearly at will off the dribble, Kevin Williams nailed three first-half treys, and Freddy Oliviera got some buckets off of his patented low post spin move. The Townies pressured SPM’s guards via a 1-2-1-1 diamond press, and were able to get several buckets in transition early in the first half off of turnovers.

However, the Guardians adjusted at halftime, and Brown capitalized in the third quarter, hitting a couple of treys and leading SPM back from a 32-27 halftime deficit.

Role players get it done: Kevin Riley put in some hard work defensively in the first half, but made his presence felt offensively in the second half, scoring 12 points in the half and finishing with 15 in all. On three separate occasions he scored on double backscreens by the Guardians’ big men.

Senior captain Anthony Manzello, who was the hero on Wednesday against St. John’s, assisted on two of those baskets with pinpoint passes. It was an offensive boost that the Guardians needed, as Charlestown made a fierce run late in the fourth quarter.

“It’s my favorite play, Manzello is a great passer," Riley said. "We’ve been playing together so long, he just knows how to catch me on the backside.”

Six-foot-4 junior Sean Sweeney also performed well off the bench for the Guardians, rebounding and giving Berry a rest in the second half. The St. Peter-Marian crowd erupted in the fourth quarter when Sweeney caught the ball in the open floor, and put in an acrobatic lay-up after going by Oliviera and taking a whack to the head from Allijah Robinson.

Makai Ashton-Langford continued to show why he’s one of the area’s most talented freshmen. At one point in the second half the talented point guard came in and scored two consecutive and one lay-ups.

“Makai’s a freshman and he plays with poise beyond his years," Guardians coach Marcus Watson said, with a laugh. "He’s just aggressive. I basically tell him: make your mistakes and I’m going to live with them, But as you can see, he’s pretty good.”

Free throw woes: St. Peter-Marian missed 17 free throws in their thrilling win over St. John’s, and it was a stat that Watson was disappointed about, emphasizing to his team in practice this week that in general they need to become a better free throw shooting team. The Guardians went 16-of-22 from the line tonight, but Watson says improvement can still be made.

“According to this I’m still not happy,” he said as he looked down at the scorebook. “After our last game, our free throw shooting looked horrendous, so we just spent a practice shooting foul shots. I gave them the day off the day after we beat St. John’s, and then on Thursday they came in and they shot free throws for the first 45 minutes of practice. It paid its dividends.”

The Townies may want to take a similar approach going into Wednesday’s showdown with city league rival Madison Park. Charlestown shot 17-30 from the free throw line against St. Peter-Marian. Despite the missed free throws, though, Charlestown coach Edson Cardoso was encouraged by the performance by his team going up against a St. Peter-Marian squad that is one of the scrappiest in the state.

“I think this will be a turning point, cause we’re playing the type of style that we played last year," he said. "I saw spurts of that tonight. We missed thirteen free throws, maybe more...we’re a team that usually can average in the 80’s. It’s going to take some work, but I think we’ll be ready to play Madison based on the turning point of tonight.”

Beating the press: Both teams broke out similar diamond, 1-2-1-1 full court presses. Watson scouted the Townies earlier in the week, and decided to press Charlestown full based on the fact that he expected the Boston City League power to do likewise.

“[The press] just opened everything up," Watson said. "We know teams that press don’t like to be pressed, so we tried to sprinkle that in a little bit. I’m very happy with our defense.”

On the other side of the ball, beating the press was key for Brown, who benefited from several open looks coming out of the Guardians’ press break. He knocked down his first three attempts from outside in the first half, and added two more threes in the third quarter.

“We’re a scrappy bunch, we just kind of go out and try and hit the open man," Brown said. "Whoever gets the ball, we trust them to do what’s right. They were pressing; I just kind of went to the open spots. My teammates found me, and I hit open shots. That’s all it comes down to.”

Statement Win: The Guardians knocked off the state’s 17th, 18th, and 19th ranked teams in the last six days, and their brutal schedule doesn’t get much easier next week, taking on a pair of talented Division 3 teams in Whitinsville Christian and Hopedale, both teams are 8-1. As mentioned, beating three ranked teams in a week span had yet to be done this year, so in doing so St. Peter-Marian sent quite a message to the rest of the state, and they know it:

“I think it proves that Central Mass. basketball can compete. Not to say that we’re going to beat everyone, but we just want to show that we can compete, and that we aren’t going to run from anybody,” Watson said. “There’s a lot of quality teams in Central Mass. I really wanted to challenge my kids this year. I’m pretty pleased with my kids.”

Brown said the wins add a lot of confidence for the Guardians going forward, as they still have plenty of tough teams left to face on their schedule.

“It feels awesome, playing all these teams from Eastern Mass. Coach tells us that we’re not going to back down ever. It’s just a great team win, we executed great on offense,” he said.

“It’s great, we come out and play these teams, nobody thinks we have a shot, and we just try to prove everybody wrong. Good team win, someone new shows up every night, you never know.”

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