Saturday, January 28, 2017

No. 9 St. John's Prep outlasts No. 7 New Mission at home

Eagles junior Tommy O'Neil scored 19 points with a game-high 14 rebounds in a win over New Mission

By Nate Weitzer

DANVERS, Mass. – During the “Dog Days” of the MIAA Basketball regular season, it takes a certain toughness to overcome collective weaknesses against determined foes. 

On Friday night, St. John’s Prep proved tougher down the stretch than one of the best pound-for-pound programs in the Bay State, as they pulled away from a very close game late for a 67-64 victory over New Mission.

The reigning Division 2 champions did their thing by forcing the Eagles into 15 first-half turnovers and appeared to be on their way to another signature win. Yet  Prep head coach John Dullea and his players were able to draw upon the lessons of a 22-point loss to Boston Cathedral last month and regain their composure in the face of that full court pressure. 

“We schedule these games for a reason and we’ve seen this style a lot this season,” Dullea explained. “The Cathedral game, while we weren’t happy with the result, it represented a sort of turning point in our season. We learned from that game and now we’re much stronger both physically and mentally.”

St. John’s Prep (8-3) trailed New Mission (8-5) 27-25 at the half, but they hung around thanks to a 20-6 advantage on the boards. 

The Eagles turned the ball over just twice during the third quarter and in the fourth, they were able to use their notable size advantage to burn the smaller Titans.

Along with fellow captain Brett McNiff (10 points, 12 rebounds), junior Tommy O’Neil (19 points, 14 rebounds) dominated the glass and racked up plenty of second chance points, while the Eagles also received great effort from two more 6-foot-5 forwards in Matt Relihan (9 points, 5 rebounds) and Patrick Sweetnam. 

Not only were those big men tough in terms of producing their own shots, they were able to make the right read when New Mission doubled in the post by kicking the ball out to open shooters. 

“We’re a balanced team, but we know that our strength is inside,” confirmed Dullea. “Still, it doesn’t have to be about pounding it inside and it’s great that [Relihan, McNiff and O’Neil] are some of the most unselfish guys you’ll find.”

Those big men kicked the ball out to junior Nate Hobbs (13 points) for a key three in the third quarter, yet it was freshman point guard Jarnel Snow-Guzman (10 points, 2 assists) who came up with the two biggest threes of the night, the second of which put Prep up 61-57 with just over a minute to play in the fourth quarter.

“[Snow-Guzman] is a freshman so there’s going to be some ups and downs, we understand that, but what I love about him is his competitiveness,” said Dullea. “This is one of the biggest stages you can get against one of the best teams in the state and he held his own.”

Of course the Titans didn’t go down easily.

With twin killers Charles (24 points) and Charlie Mitchell (16 points, 8 assists, 6 steals) doing plenty of damage on both ends of the floor, New Mission traded blows with Prep down the stretch.

Yet in the end, the size and skill of big men such as O’Neil proved too much for the Titans to handle. 

“[The Titans] are so good at getting up and pressuring us that it was hard to get the ball down low,” admitted O’Neil. “But I just had to stick with it, get my boards and put it back up and that was how I was able to get most of my points.”

While this win might not carry much significance for Prep in the standings of an incredibly competitive Catholic Conference, it clearly means a lot for an inexperienced team that struggled against full court pressure earlier this season.

And with a win over yet another City League power (Prep defeated Brighton, 68-63, last week), the Eagles are finding ways to come together as they head towards the tail end of their regular season schedule. 

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