MEDFORD, Mass. -– They read the scouting reports, they read the hype, and New Mission’s undersized forwards knew they were in for the heavyweight bout of their lives against 7-foot-1 behemoth Karl Towns, the Kentucky-bound center who is considered St. Joseph (N.J.) High’s most talented export since Andrew Bynum.
Asante Sandiford knew he might have to take a liberty or two to stay even. Fellow forward Bam Rivers admitted exhaustion after the game, the Titans having played their second contest in as many days, and a third on the docket in less than 12 hours.
But going the other way, it wasn’t a clean affair either, Towns sporting a speckling of blood down the right side of his jersey in the post-game (“Elbow hit a tooth,” he explained, with a laugh).
The Falcons breezed out of Tufts University’s Cousens Gymnasium with a 71-49 win over Mission (3-1), highlighted by a monster night from Towns (20 points, 19 rebounds, 6 blocks) -– but not before getting a bit of a scare in the first half.
After the 6-foot-4 Rivers slapped the opening tip-off away from Towns, the Titans took a 5-0 lead on a beautifully-executed kickout to the corner for Rivers. Junior guard Randy Glenn (13 points) drove to the elbow and found Tyrique Lee to the blocks. Rather than go up with it, Lee immediately slapped the pass into the corner, where the wide-bodied Rivers buried a trey.
Shaquan Murray then gave the Titans their final lead of the night, 9-8, with a runner at the buzzer. From there, it was all St. Joe’s.
The Falcons opened the second quarter on a 17-5 run, with plenty of highlight-reel fodder along the way. Up 10-9 early the quarter, Towns got a piece of a Sandiford layup attempt, flicked a frozen rope of an outlet pass deep up court, and watched as Vanderbilt commit Wade Baldwin completed a three-point player at the other end.
A few moments later, Towns took a backdoor lob from sophomore Breein Tyree and slammed it home with authority. That was followed up later by another backdoor alley-oop, this one from Baldwin to Marques Townes, for a 30-15 lead shortly before the break.
St. Joe’s led 33-15 at the break, and 54-31 after three quarters.
Holding down Towns: It was a tall task, but somebody had to do it. In this case it was Sandiford (11 points, nine rebounds), the 6-foot-4 Franklin Pierce commit, that was saddled with manning up Towns. Giving up nine inches to Towns -– the No. 6 overall player in the Class of 2014, according to ESPNU –- made everything a chore for Sandiford. But he was up for the challenge, at times taking liberties just to stay even with the big man.
There were times when Sandiford hooked an arm around Towns’ midsection, and Towns would reach over Sandiford with his free arm for an easy basket. There were other times when Towns was held down with a tug of the jersey, only to pick up a foul on his way up and convert a three-point play. Other times, Towns saw a double-team, or he saw tight traffic as multiple bodies crashed to the basket.
For his part, Sandiford said those liberties were his own calling, saying “We do whatever it takes”.
“I’ve just been blessed with a lot of talent, I’ve worked hard in the gym, and I expect this when I go out,” Towns said of the physicality. “I expect to get hammered, and have the liberty to just do mostly anything they want against me. I just have to go out there and play my game, and everything will come.”
When Mission coach Cory McCarthy went to scout St. Joe’s the night before, in the Falcons win over Archbishop Wood (Pa.) on the first day of the Shooting Touch Shootout, he noted how many three’s Towns attempted. McCarthy thought his kids “could have been tougher, could have been grimier”, but had a suspicion it was going to be a physical game today.
“Just as I thought, when somebody plays against us, they’re gonna be good, because we play so antagonistic that people get mad and start playing really well,” McCarthy laughed. “So I think we really aggravated him and pissed him off a bit. I don’t mind that. He’s a hell of a player.
“I thought we did a good job on him. He got some dunks, but he played like a man, and he had to play like a man to beat us. I felt like we were in the game most of the game, and our kids never gave up.
Said Towns of the physicality, “For me, this was a very good game, and I was happy that I was able to be a little bit more physical than I have been in the last few games.”
Three times, Sandiford attempted the “dream shake” move made famous by Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, but was unable to convert any of the attempts. Once, he drew a foul from Towns, the big man’s only foul of the game. Another time, he was simply stuffed.
For a move with such a unique degree of difficulty, Sandiford executed it well. It’s just that, well, the guy he did against just happens to be Olajuwon’s height.
“Just because he’s taller doesn’t mean anything,” Sandiford said. “You can still work him, know what I mean? You can use your post moves, and use quicker feet.”
Towns said he enjoyed the matchup with Sandiford.
“I had seen how everything was playing, and coach came in today, when they said the starting lineups, and said ‘You’re taking No. 4 [Sandiford] today’,” Towns said. “I said, ‘No problem’. I always love playing against the best players on every team, so I’m just glad he was at my position today and I was able to play him.”