ROXBURY, Mass. -- Shaquan Murray is a serviceable defender, a quality athlete, but above all else he is a shooter. So as he mired through a lethargic shooting slump in the first half of a gritty game against rival Madison Park, in the notoriously-unfriendly Madidome, the New Mission junior guard did what many a shooter will do -- he kept shooting.
In need of some spark after some dizzyingly sub-par shot selection through the first 26 minutes, New Mission rode a wave of momentum with back-to-back three-pointers from Murray that knotted the game at 57-57 with less than three minutes to go.
The Titans took the lead for good on a Juwan Gooding three with 1:39 to go, and escaped the Cardinals’ gym with a 69-64 win to remain in first place in the Boston City League’s top tier (6-3, 4-1). With the loss, the MP Machine fell to a surprising 1-5 in the league.
"I know that kid was going to come up big for us," Mission head coach Cory McCarthy said. "That kid, man, he's still learning the game, but he's going to be special. He's going to be special. No matter what, he always lets the game come to him. The game will always find him. He's a good kid, man, good kid."
Murray finished with 15 points, second-most on the team. But prior to his two big fourth-quarter buckets, he was just 4-for-11 from the field.
"You’ve got to keep shooting," Murray said. "When I was struggling, my coach was telling me to go to the basket and be aggressive, and that’s what I was doing. Then when it opened up for me to shoot, I knocked them down when they counted. I kept shooting."
A few minutes later, the sophomore Gooding (17 points, five assists, five rebounds) gave the Titans the lead for good, getting a wide-open look along the left wing directly off an inbounds pass from under the baseline.
Give due credit to Gooding and his feathery, high-arching stroke from deep. But the look was made possible thanks to a heads-up maneuver from junior center Fred “Bam” Rivers (seven points, seven rebounds). Seeing Gooding with plenty of space around the three-point line, Rivers found the MP body closest to the Gooding -- in this instance, near the intersecting corner of the volleyball lines -- and flashed a quick screen.
"Fred was so smart," Mission head coach Cory McCarthy said. "He came off his guy, and just banged the guy. It was a little bit of a flare. That wasn’t the play, but Bam is so smart."
From there, 6-foot-7 senior forward Nate Anderson came up with two big steals to help seal the win. First, he snatched an outlet pass near the scorer's table, and called a timeout. Of the timeout, Gooding fumbled away the inbounds pass. At the other end, however, Anderson sagged deep into the lane and ripped the ball out of a Cardinal player's hands, with under a minute to go.
Gooding was tasked with free throws, and he did his job to seal the win. In the fourth quarter, Gooding was 6-of-8 from the charity stripe.
"Nate's a defensive presence, and he shuts down an entire side," McCarthy said of Anderson. "And I'm very serious. He may not score a ton of points, he'll grab some boards and get you some blocks, but man, there's no stat for how valuable he is this year."
Seniors Isshiah Coleman and Brian Jones were the only other Titans in double-figures, with 10 points each -- in Coleman's case, despite foul trouble for most of the evening.
The last three minutes were quite a turnaround from the way things had started off. The Titans shot 38 percent from the field (12-of-31) in the first half, and through three quarters were just 35 percent. That included a 1-for-18 margin from three-point range.
"Our shot selection was so poor for 29 minutes of this game," McCarthy said. "[The last three minutes] We decided to play New Mission basketball. It's hard when Nate [Anderson] is in foul trouble. Nate can't be in foul trouble, bottom line. He's the key to our defense, and he and Isshiah [Coleman] had three fouls each in the first half."
Senior forward David Stewart turned in a monster game for the Cardinals, leading them with 17 points and 16 rebounds, while junior guard Terrell Matthews added 16 in the loss.
"He played his butt off," MP head coach Dennis Wilson said of Stewart. "He played like a warrior, like the guy I know he is, and has been for me for four years. [He's a] relentless rebounder."
Accusations of 'classless' play: Wilson was none too happy following the loss, going so far as accusing the Titans of using low-brow tactics to gain an edge. Wilson's inclination stemmed primarily from an episode during a free throw attempt in the second half, when a Mission player stood next to a Cardinals player as he spoke with Wilson, and refused to move away when asked.
Wilson was not pleased the with this, and had some choice words for the player; at one point, one of Wilson's assistants stepped between the two.
At another point in the game, the same player fell to the floor after being pushed by a player, but in a manner close enough to possibly be perceived as embellishment. After the buzzer sounded to end the first half, an MP player was given a technical foul for retaliating to some extracurricular play; Percio Gomez hit both free throws to cut MP's halftime lead to 32-30.
"Nothing's wrong with a physical game and being aggressive," Wilson said. "But when you show no class, when you're doing bush league things, when you're going outside the lines, when players are disrespecting the opposing coach, that's not what this is all about. That's not what basketball competing is all about. They need to have more class, they need to understand what real sports is all about -- sportsmanship, compete, battle.
"But the classless stuff, and the disrespect -- players disrespecting the coach, flopping, them trying to start trouble and bait players -- that stuff is sickening to me."
Told later in the evening by phone of Wilson's words, McCarthy reiterated what officials had said -- that what his player in question was doing was within the rules.
"If a player is on the court during a live ball, he can stand anywhere he wants. It’s not to offend the other team, its just he’s staying on his man," McCarthy said. "It’s not like he [Wilson] was calling out plays and we were stealing plays. You're not going to find anybody outside the city that is going to say this is a classless program. Only people in the Boston City League feel a certain way about New Mission, because they feel we haven’t paid any dues.
"As far as the ruling, the referee came over and explained to coach that my player being there is 100 percent legal. Anyone that knows me knows I don’t tolerate my kids doing the extracurricular. If I thought it was wrong, I would have had him move, but the court belongs to the players, not the coaches. And after the game, all his players hugged my players."