Friday, March 10, 2017

Previewing the MIAA Boys' Hoops D2 Sectional Finals

Jerrod Clark and the Brighton Bengals have had some pep in their step this tournament season.
By Matt Feld (@mattyfeld612) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

We're getting down to the nitty gritty of the MIAA boys' basketball tournament, and the next few days will see sectional championship games played across all 16 sections.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves with all that. Here's our preview of the four sectional finals in Division 2. If you would like to read our Division 1 sectional final previews, you can find them here.

Division 2 South, by Matt Feld

No. 5 O’Bryant (18-6) vs. No. 3 Whitman-Hanson (18-3)

Players to Watch:
O’Bryant – Rivaldo Soares, So., SG; Romario Ebanks, Sr., PG; Dasonte Bowen, 8th., SF.
Whitman-Hanson – Nikko Raftes, Sr.,  SG; Luke Tamulevich, Sr., SG; Sean Leahy, Sr., SF.

Date/Time/Location: March 11th, 4pm, Brockton High School

Whitman-Hanson comes in as the reigning Division 2 South Sectional Champion, so it would make sense to perceive the Panthers as the favorite. They are headlined by sharpshooters Nikko Raftes and Luke Tamulevich, who complement a well-experienced Panthers squad. O’Bryant, however, has plenty of talent to overcome Whitman-Hanson’s senior leadership.

Rivaldo Soares may be only a sophomore, but he has blossomed into a big-time player this year. Most notably, Soares scored 20 points while dishing out 7 assists and grabbing 7 rebounds in the Tigers' win over Falmouth on Wednesday night. To go with Soares, the Tigers have lethal three point shooters in Romario Ebanks and Emmanuel Exhihomme while athleticism in Dasonte Bowe and Kobe Smith.

This is a game that could certainly wind up in the eighties and nineties, with O’Bryant using their fast-paced stlye of play to get fast break opportunities and Whitman-Hanson using their shooting from long range to hang around. One thing to watch is the Tigers' ability to rebound. On Tuesday, the Tigers outrebounded Falmouth 37-23 and came away with 15 second-chance points.

If Saturday afternoon comes anywhere close to resembling that, the odds are that O’Bryant will be headed to the TD Garden.

Coach’s Thoughts: “(Rivaldo) Soares poses a lot of matchup issues,” said one coach. “He can shoot, pull up, or just go up and dunk it. I think Whitman-Hanson is going to have to play a perfect game from a ball protection standpoint. If you turn it over against O’Bryant you are asking for trouble with their ability to get up and down off the break. Whitman-Hanson will probably want a game in the fifties while O’Bryant wants it closer to 80.”

Feld’s Pick: O’Bryant, 73-64

Division 2 North, by Matt Feld

No. 5 Brighton (20-5) vs. No. 3 Lynn Classical (21-3)

Players to Watch:
Brighton – Jordan Galloway, Sr., PG; Tyronne Perry, Sr., SF; Jerrod Clark, Sr., C.
Lynn Classical – Edwin Solis, G, Sr; Dyrell Rucker, SF., So.

Date/Time/Location: March 11th, 7pm, Woburn

For three years, Brighton has been building towards a state championship run, and through their first three games so far this state tournament, the Bengals seem to have their most dominant team to date. Their dynamic style of play was on full display on Tuesday night with the combination of Mykell Derring and Wilson Veal from three point land, Jordan Galloway facilitating in the paint, and Jerrod Clark and Isaiah Diaz down low, spearheading a 71-64 win over Arlington.
On the opposite end is Lynn Classical, who knocked off Belmont and Malden Catholic to reach the sectional final. Edwin Solis provides a mid-range game to go along with the ability to splash a bevy of treys, while Dyrell Rucker gives a scoring presence in the paint. Classical’s most notable achievement so far this tournament, though, is their defense holding a team that is known for their three-point shooting in Belmont to just 50 points, while limiting Michael Boyd, Chris McDonald and company at Malden Catholic to 54.

Brighton, however, poses a whole new challenge. The key here is whether Classical can break the Bengals' pressure consistently throughout the game. On Tuesday night, Arlington blinked for a mere two minutes midway through the fourth quarter and saw a two-point deficit balloon to 11. If the Bulldogs can keep their composure against Brighton’s full court press, they definitely have a shot.

Coach’s Thoughts: “Brighton is bound for a stretch that contains a bevy of three pointers, a couple of forced turnovers, and a couple of easy baskets,” said one Division 2 coach. “Classical is going to have rebound, they cannot allow second chance opportunities especially considering the three point shooters that Brighton has.”

Feld’s Pick: Brighton, 70-60

Division 2 Central, by Joe Parello

No. 2 Groton-Dunstable (19-4) vs No. 1 Nashoba (19-4)

Players to Watch:
Groton-Dunstable - Gavin Keough, Sr., F, Tyler LeClerc, Sr., PG, Ethan Cook, Sr., G, Logan Higgins, Sr., G.
Nashoba - Justin Pierce, Jr., G, Andrew Fish, Sr., F, Connor Jesson, Sr., F, Connor Ojerholm, So., C.

Date/Time/Location: March 11th, 6:45 pm, WPI

To say these teams know each other well would be an understatement.

These Mid-Wach B rivals have already played twice this season, and nearly met again in the Clark Tournament at the end of the year. Nashoba pulled off the sweep of its league rival, and captured a share of the Mid-Wach B crown in the process, but don't think the Chieftains are sleeping on the Crusaders one bit.

In what should be a great battle of athletic and tough backcourts, Nashoba's Justin Pierce and Groton-Dunstable's Tyler LeClerc come in the most heralded. Nashoba has been fantastic defensively the past two games, particularly on the perimeter, but dealing with high-scoring forward Gavin Keough, who has the size and skill to cause all kinds of problems, will again be difficult for Nashoba.

It's hard to beat a team three times in one year, as Nashoba found out at the Clark against another league foe, Westboro, but the Chieftains are absolutely dialed in defensively right now. The Chieftains held Milford to just 24 points, then limited reigning D2 Central champion Concord-Carlisle to just 45. That defense, and the size of Ojerholm inside, is the slight difference for me.

Joe's Pick: Nashoba, 45-40

Division 2 West, by Joe Parello

No. 2 Taconic (18-3) vs No. 1 Longmeadow (17-4)

Players to Watch:
Taconic - Izaiya Mestre, Sr., G, Jack Cooney, Sr., G, Drew DeMartino, Jr., F, Devon Walker, Sr., G.
Longmeadow - Patrick Abad, Sr., G, Max Robbins, Sr., F, Will Echeverria, Jr., F, Michael McLaughlin, Jr., C

March 11th, 7:30 pm, UMass

Longmeadow got the best of Taconic on December 30th, thanks to a big fourth quarter, but you can pretty much throw that one out when these two D2 powers get together at the Curry Hicks Cage at UMass. Taconic limped into the postseason following a thrashing at the hands of Mt. Greylock and two close wins at the end of the year, but bounced back to win their only tournament game thus far.

The Braves are coming off a hot shooting performance against South Hadley in the semifinals, and will no doubt look for open space beyond the arc against Longmeadow.

Led by senior guard Izaiya Mestre, the Braves can fill it up, but Longmeadow has a pair of lethal scorers of its own. Seniors Pat Abad and Max Robbins provide a nice inside-outside combo for the Lancers, but some cracks showed defensively against Tantasqua last week.

My thought is that the Lancers crowd the perimeter and force Taconic to put the ball on the floor. The Braves have the guards to win a game that way, but Longmeadow has the size on the inside to grind things out if Taconic isn't hitting shots. This one has the feel of a toss-up.

Joe's Pick: Longmeadow 60-57

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