ROXBURY, Mass. -- Their energetic student section was dancing in the bleachers. Their promising young point guard was all smiles, ear to ear, with an extra bit of jump in his stride. And when the final buzzer rang, their spiritual head coach's voice had grown so hoarse he could barely speak.
The Brighton Bengals were in rare form tonight against their Boston South rivals New Mission, tonight in a home game at Latin Academy, so excuse all parties involved for expending -- or, in head coach Hugh Coleman's case, exhausting -- bountiful bursts of energy.
When these two teams met last month before a frenetic crowd at the Tobin Community Center, the Bengals snuck out of the building with a two-point comeback victory, and Coleman's first win over the Titans in his tenure at Brighton. But tonight, before another capacity crowd, the Bengals pulled off a rare sweep of a team that just plain doesn't get swept, delivering the Titans a 76-53 haymaker to take control of the South division and assure themselves a spot the Boston City League Championship tournament at the end of this month.
"They [Mission] were the standard in our league, of excellence, and the team to beat," said Coleman, growling and straining his hoarse voice to make out words. "We've been measuring ourselves against them, and for two years couldn't get over the top.
"We got close last year in the D2 North Final [a 55-53 loss], so this year it was important for us to get the first win. And I thought again, we came out and played well, and did some things to slow them down. So it means a lot, for now, but we're most likely going to see them again in the state tournament, or in the City's."
The Titans (11-4) took their only lead of the game right at the beginning, a Tayon Watson three-pointer from the wing giving them a 5-2 advantage. From then on, the Bengals (15-1) seized control forcefully, using an aggressive 1-2-1-1 press to force a slew of turnovers and close out the quarter on an 18-4 run. Daivon Edwards (17 points, five rebounds) hit two 3-pointers to spark the run.
More damage came in the second quarter, when sophomore point guard Malik James (20 points, 12 assists, five rebounds) pushed Brighton's advantage out to 34-16 with a momentum-swaying three-point play. James pulled up to the left elbow, crossed his man up to a loud chorus of approval from the crowd, and pulled back for a 15-foot fadeaway that drew a foul from his defender in the process.
"It was basically a four-low iso, and coach was telling us to keep going," James said. "So I hit him with a crossover and just pulled up."
The Bengals led 38-24 at the half, forcing 15 Mission turnovers over the first 16 minutes, and led 54-39 through three. Sophomore forward Nick Simpson added 16 points and eight rebounds in the win, while junior guard Theo Oribhabor added 15 points, five assists and five rebounds.
"[We were] real energized, practice was crazy yesterday," James said. "Real energetic, and then we just left everything out there. We went after everything."
Shaquan Murray led Mission with 11 points, while DaShawn Fennell added 10 points and junior forward Isshiah Coleman had 10 rebounds.
Packing the pressure: Coleman toiled under legendary head coach Jack O'Brien at Charlestown during their historic run of dominance at the start of the 21st Century, winning five Division 2 state titles in six seasons, and one of the staples of O'Brien's reign he has brought with him to Brighton is the method in which players attack in full-court pressure.
Emphasis on attack, by the way. The Bengals take proper spacing and attack at angles, which tonight led to an aggressive press -- especially with their diamond-and-one look, which placed four defenders in a diamond formation about the three-point arc, and left the big man 40 to 50 feet back as a safety valve.
In turn, Mission was forced into some poor decisions with the ball, getting trapped and turning the ball over around midcourt a number of times and yielding some open perimeter looks on the fast break. When they did get shots off, the Bengals controlled the glass, including a 23-12 advantange on the boards in the first half.
"It's a good question," Coleman said when asked how much he wanted to dictate tempo. "My coaches, after a couple fouls, want to pull the press off. But I feel when you sit back in a zone, you get lackadaisical. So I really wanted to push the tempo, dictate it, get us going up and down, because our guys are really good in the open court.
"I thought that if we could get them in a couple good trap situations, force them to speed it up a bit, that would help us out. And it worked."
James' confidence growing: As much as James excites fans at time with his ballhandling ability and end-to-end rushes, it's his confidence that Coleman says is his best quality at the moment.
"He's always been a special, talented kid," Coleman said. "He has skills. But when his confidence is going, that's everything. He can get people the ball, he can get to the lane, play good defense, and be a great leader. So when his confidence up, it helps our team overall. That's the energy level we want."
Pyrrhic victory? Emotions are running high in Brighton, off to the program's best start in years despite not having a home gym due to renovations, but the Bengals may soon have to deal with more adversity.
Coleman confirmed to ESPNBoston.com following the win that he expects to lose Simpson and junior point guard Nate Hogan either by the end of this week or next week due to academics. Simpson has been consistently one of the Bengals' best performers, if not their most versatile threat in the frontcourt, posting double-double figures nearly nightly.
Down the other end, Mission head coach Cory McCarthy confirmed to ESPNBoston.com that he has lost promising freshman point guard Greg Bridges, also due to academics. Bridges was averaging 20 points and eight rebounds in his first year with the Titans.