BROCKTON, Mass. –- Some kind of rebuilding period would’ve been fair to expect for the No. 19 Brockton High boys basketball team this season, after they graduated four of five starters and all but three varsity players from last season’s Div. 1 state finalist squad.
Even with Jahleel Moise, Jamal Rueben and 2012 ESPN Boston Super Teamer Sayvonn Houston –- all stars for the Boxers last season -– currently playing significant minutes as freshmen in college programs, Brockton has proven early on that this won’t be a year to rebuild, but instead reload.
That trend continued Friday night when they bested defending Div. 1 Central Mass. champ St. John’s of Shrewsbury, 59-51, behind a suffocating defensive attack that limited the Pioneers (4-2) to just six first quarter points.
“This was a very good win –- we’re very pleased with the way we’re playing defense right now,” said Brockton coach Bob Boen. “It was a very nice win. St. John’s is always good and they came in 4-1. They almost always play for the state championship, so to beat them is a very good win here. And it was the defense again. We’re playing very good defense.”
The Boxers (4-2) closed out the first on an 8-0 run and held a 13-6 lead. They’d never trail again.
“We were missing our captain (Ken Harrington) and only senior because he got hurt,” said Pioneers coach Bob Foley. “It took us a while to get adjusted. Usually Harrington score seven or eight points early in a game and sets the tone. Without him out there we didn’t score early.
“From then on, we played them pretty even -– and probably even outscored them a little bit.”
Brockton used a balanced scoring attack in which nine different players scored in the win. Only Ridge Francisque reached double figures, and he didn’t score his 10th and final point until he knocked down a pair of free throws with just eight seconds left in the game.
Boen’s team continued a trend of attacking from the perimeter, lofting 3-pointers any time they got an open look. They knocked down seven of them in all.
Nisre Zouzoua, back after missing a couple games with injury, was second on the team in scoring with nine points, including a pair of long 3-pointers in the win.
Jaylen Blakely chipped in eight points, four assists and three rebounds, Ian Wade added seven points, Marcus Curry notched six points, Shakeen Smith finished with five points, five rebounds, two blocks and two steal and Avalon McLaren connected on a pair of 3-pointers and had three steals in the win.
Despite only hitting two field goals in the fourth quarter, the Boxers sealed the win by connecting on 11 of 14 free throws down the stretch. For the game, they shot 21-for-27 from the stripe -– a trend Boen is happy to see.
“We made some three’s tonight -– some key three’s,” Boen said. “I’ve been saying all year we’re a very good shooting team and that’s finally starting to come around.
“We do have better shooters this year. At the end of the game, we’ve three fantastic free throw shooters in Wade, Zouzoua and Blakely. They’re all great. Curry is a pretty good foul shooter and Francisque is a pretty decent foul shooter also. At the end of the game, it’s nice to have five guys out there who you expect to knock down two out of two shots.”
With Harrington sidelined, junior Charlie Murray stepped forward to keep things close for St. John’s. With the offense struggling to get going early on, Murray poured in eight points in the second quarter alone. He finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and a pair of assists in the defeat.
“Charlie does his job,” Foley said. “Charlie is not the greatest athlete –- he’s not a jumper and he’s not the greatest athlete but he finds a way in the pivot to wiggle his way free and get his shot up there. He’s always looking for the basketball and he did this for us last year too.”
Sophomore center Stephen Palecki fueled a fourth quarter comeback, as St. John’s narrowed the gap to just five points with under four minutes to go. Palecki notched eight of his 13 points in the final frame. He also pulled in eight rebounds in the loss. Brockton had several chances late to put the game out of reach, but a stretch of poor shot selection too early into the shot clock gave the Pioneers a chance to climb back into it.
“That was a little frustrating tonight and it was a little frustrating against Providence Classical the other night," Boen said. "We still don’t quite understand what’s supposed to be done at the end of the game. We still think any decent shot we can get up is one we want to take at that point. I’ve been trying to tell them that if you’re ahead 10 points with three minutes to go, you start to think about the clock a little bit.”