Friday, February 10, 2017

Ethan Wright returns to lead No. 12 Newton North to win over No. 17 Braintree

Newton North junior Ethan Wright poured in 31 points in his first game back from injury

By Nate Weitzer (@Nweitzer7)

BRAINTREE, Mass. - Basketball is a team game, but on occasion, individuals can transcend the parameters of the sport and engage in a true battle.

Newton North junior Ethan Wright (31 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals) and Braintree senior Nick Timberlake (39 points, 6 rebounds) carried their respective teams in a Bay State Conference showdown, but Wright’s Tigers proved to be just a bit tougher down the stretch, as they escaped Braintree High with a 68-64 victory.

At first, Timberlake and his teammates seemed to be in charge at home. The senior hit six of his first seven attempts from the floor and his first four attempts from the free throw line before capping the first quarter with a three-pointer to make it 21-12 Wamps.

Wright, who was coming back from a six-game absence due to an ankle injury, struggled to find his offensive rhythm and took a seat halfway through the first, but emerged stronger at the beginning of the second quarter while leading the Tigers on an 18-9 run to tie the game at 30. 

“It took a little time to get back into it,” Wright admitted. “I hadn’t even practiced yet, so this was my first opportunity and eventually I started to feel good out there.”

In the second half, Wright continued to find his rhythm, while receiving important contributions from his teammates. 

Junior point guard Noah Neville (10 points) and freshman forward Aaron Cooley (12 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks) played tremendously down the stretch, and it was Cooley who cooled off Timberlake with some solid individual defense in the fourth quarter.

“[Cooley] causes matchup problems at both ends of the court because his length allows him to guard so many different positions,” said Newton North head coach Paul Connolly.  “And then on the offensive end, when you put extra attention on Ethan [Wright] and Chris [Matthews], Noah [Neville] and Cooley can serve as those other weapons for us.”

After Timberlake electrified the crowd with an alley-oop finish, Wright came right back down the court and found Cooley for a three-pointer to tie the game at 36 in the middle of the third quarter.

A few minutes later, Neville supplied a steal and a transition finish to make it 42-40, giving the Tigers their first lead of the night. 

“We’re glad to have [Wright] back,” Cooley said. “It was hard without him, but we fought through it and now he’s back. The other team needs to realize that Ethan [Wright] is a great player, but we have 15 great players on this team and the next guy can step up.”

With Wright out of the lineup, the Tigers dropped 2 of 6 games to conference foes Brookline and Framingham before bouncing back with narrow wins over Brockton and Norwood.

For Connolly, playing a long stretch without the team’s leading scorer might help younger players such as Cooley gain more confidence going forward.

“When you take 26 points per game out of our lineup [in Wright], you have to make some adjustments,” recognized Connolly. “I’m real proud of the way our guys stepped up. Through his injury, some other guys have been able to find themselves and find confidence in their own game.”

Those other players made enough plays to earn a narrow advantage on the road, but the Wamps and Timberlake weren’t going down easily.

One of the state’s leading scorers, Timberlake dropped 33 points in a four-point loss at Newton North earlier this season and he went over that threshold with an and-1 finish to make it 60-59 Tigers late in the fourth quarter.

Yet the visitors were able to parade to the free throw line for a couple of key points before Wright provided went over 30 points with a beautiful up-and-under finish to essentially seal the deal.

“For me personally, this has been a really rewarding team to coach,” Connolly said. “I have to remind myself of their youthfulness. We have a lot of new players, but they’re doing a great job. We dealt with some bumps tonight. Ethan [Wright] hadn’t played in six games and Chris [Matthews] got into early foul trouble, but other guys stepped up.”

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