Friday, February 17, 2017

Postgame Blog: Resilient Algonquin Scores Upset at St. John's (Shrewsbury)

By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

SHREWSBURY, Mass. - Inexperienced, undersized and playing in one of the toughest venues in the state, it would have been easy for Algonquin to fold on multiple occasions Friday night.

But, no matter how many times it looked like favored St. John's (Shrewsbury) was going to run away with a 13th consecutive victory, the Tomahawks kept clawing back, and eventually made enough plays down the stretch to score a 74-71 victory, and put Central Massachusetts on notice.

It was actually the first time all year the T-Hawks had trailed going into the fourth quarter, but Algonquin's coach knew his young team was prepared.

"There really is no quit in these kids," Algonquin coach Brian Doherty said. "No matter what we're down, they don't question themselves, they just keep working… We work on a lot of these situations in practice. I say, 'you're down three in the fourth quarter, or you're down five in the fourth quarter, what are you gonna do?' So they know how to respond, and they did tonight."

Indeed, every time St. John's (15-3, 2-0 CMC) went on a run to extend its advantage, Algonquin (12-6, 6-1 Mid-Wach A) punched right back with a run of its own, often sparked by aggressive defense, or the occasionally ridiculous outside shooting of Kyle Henderson and Nick Redden.

Here are just a few of the times Algonquin hung on for dear life when it appeared the game was slipping away.

-After a 7-0 Pioneer run put Gonk down 10 midway through the second quarter, the T-Hawks went on an 8-2 run of their own over the next two minutes, paced by a pair of Henderson three-pointers. St. John's junior Sean Burke would hit a layup just before intermission, but what looked like a potential blowout was only a four-point Pioneer lead at the half.

-As St. John's extended its lead to 7 late in the third, following a corner three by sophomore guard Bobby Duquette, Algonquin sophomore guard Brian Duffy answered with a turnaround jumper, then a free throw the next time down, followed by a score from senior Dustin Branson and a layup by Henderson to keep Gonk within four heading into the final period.

-Following another Duquette three, and a free throw by Cole Stairs, St. John's held a nine-point lead with six minutes to play. Algonquin would then close the game on an 18-6 run, punctuated by some incredible heady situational basketball from the young T-Hawks.

Trailing 69-65 with under three minutes to play, Henderson nearly lost the ball. But, the junior corralled it, and re-gained his composure, before hesitating, then crossing his man over and hitting a floater in the lane to pull Algonquin within two.

On the other end, Henderson came up with a big defensive rebound, but paid the price by taking a hard foul. On the ensuing Algonquin possession, senior captain Brett Sherman rattled in a jumper from the elbow to tie things up.

When Henderson came back on the court, he topped his flashy crossover with a three-pointer from about six feet beyond the arc, which swished in to give Algonquin a 72-69 advantage with just 90 seconds to play.

With the chance to close out the game, Algonquin was able to force a contested Duquette layup, and Redden came up with a critical board. The sophomore, who hit four three-pointers in the game, including three corner threes during the third quarter, proceeded to casually make both free throws and ice the game.

With the way they handled the pressure of playing at St. John's, where the Pioneers had only lost once all season coming in, and the ease with which they closed things out, you would think this was a veteran Tomahawk team. Not the case. Led in scoring by the sophomore Redden (22 pts), the junior Henderson (19 pts) and sophomore Brian Duffy (15 pts), Algonquin showed poise well beyond its years Friday night in Shrewsbury.

"We have a lot of different characters on this team, but we're hard working," Duffy said after the game. "That's what we thrive off of is hard work, and when things are going bad, we try to turn it into a positive and turn things around like we did (Friday).

The loss snapped a 12-game winning streak for St. John's, but don't shed too many tears for the Pioneers, who nearly came out on top in a game where star point guard Tyler Mola wasn't feeling it from downtown, and where Algonquin splashed in treys from comical distances.

This team should still be considered the favorite in D1 Central, and we even saw a little bit of how the Pioneer front court can help St. John's survive when shots aren't falling. Burke scored 21 entirely in the paint, before senior guard Alex Bradley found his stroke from downtown (25 pts on seven 3-pointers), while Stairs, Hunter Gorgas and Will Gross combined for 14 extra points in the paint.

Like they did earlier in the year when they fell in consecutive games to Nashoba and Marlboro, the Pioneers will lick their wounds, learn their lessons, and be better for it.

Algonquin, meanwhile, has to be riding high following its biggest win in several years. The Tomahawks came into Friday night knowing they could lock up a Mid-Wach A title by defeating Shepherd Hill next week, but the chance to score a marquee win against the region's dominant basketball program had to be alluring as well.

Algonquin has come a long way from the team that started 1-3 and struggled to get outside of the 50s offensively. Now riding a five-game winning streak, the T-Hawks are on the verge of a league title, and potentially being the hottest team in D1 Central heading into the tournament.

With a young team that doesn't know it isn't supposed to be this good quite yet, Algonquin will be one to watch come playoff time.

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