|St. Peter-Marian's Shamar Simms attempts a free throw Thursday night. The junior finished with a game-high 21 points.|
SHREWSBURY, Mass. - A monster fourth quarter, and a now-healthy Demarr Langford, helped St. Peter-Marian outlast Algonquin Thursday night at Shrewsbury High School.
The Guardians (15-8) owned the fourth quarter, outscoring Algonquin (14-7) 22-11 in the final frame, including a 12-0 run that helped them run away with a 70-59 victory in the Division 2 Central quarterfinals.
But SPM also received an early spark from Langford, the 6-foot-6 forward who had waited patiently on the bench all season, healing up from an elbow injury. The super soph scored 11 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, emphatically swatted 4 Tomahawk shots, and added some much-needed energy to the Guardian sideline.
"There was definitely a buzz going around our school (about Langford's return). We basically told everybody to keep it off Twitter," St. Peter-Marian coach Marcus Watson said. "We weren't afraid of people knowing, we just wanted (Langford) to have a chance to settle into the game. He really did with the blocks and the playing above the rim."
The Guardians were also powered by a complete effort from junior Shamar Simms, who led the team with 21 points, and buried a late banking three-pointer to put SPM up nine in the fourth. If Langford was St. Peter-Marian's energy, Simms was its stabilizing force, defending both the paint and the wing on one end, then scoring as a shooter, post player and slasher on the other.
"I was surprised (when the late three-pointer went in off the backboard), because I usually don't take threes," Simms said. "I'm more of a scorer in the paint, but coach just said 'shoot it,' and I'm just glad it went in."
But don't let the fourth quarter fool you: This game was a battle for the majority of Thursday night, with Tomahawk guard Kyle Henderson throwing the kitchen sink at SPM, both as a ball-handler and as a jump shooter. The junior finished with 19 points, including two long 3-pointers, and pulled Algonquin back within striking distance nearly every time SPM began pulling away.
"Kyle Henderson is probably one of the best point guards in Central Mass, and he doesn't get his due," coach Watson said. "He's the kind of player that, as a coach, you want him on your team but, when you're coaching against him, you can't stand him… I told the kids, 'we're gonna show him the ultimate respect and not let him get the ball.'"
The difference late seemed to be St. Peter-Marian's length, athleticism and depth, as the Guardians turned on their press, and attempted to deny Henderson the ball from the moment it was inbounded. The strategy couldn't stop Henderson completely, as the junior scored five late points, but it did help the Guardians expand their lead to 16 points late in the fourth, as outstanding defense led to easy buckets on the other end.
"It's great (to get the win)," the returning Langford said. "We've just got to get better and get smarter, and play to our personalities. We know our team chemistry."
Suddenly healthy, St. Peter-Marian now emerges as a dangerous dark horse in the final four of Division 1 Central. The Guardians will next face top seeded Franklin at WPI Sunday at 1 pm. With Langford back, and Simms playing well in all phases, SPM will be a tough out, even for a Panthers squad that has only lost twice all season.