Saturday, January 27, 2018

Newton North Hands Needham First Loss

By Kyle Schroeder (@kyschroeder81)

Newton, Mass. - The Needham Rockets were a perfect 10-0 coming into Friday night's showdown with Newton North. The Tigers were the biggest test up until this point for Needham, as Newton North was 9-3 coming in and widely recognized as a Top 20 team in the state.

Needham did not pass this test, and may have had weaknesses exposed in its very first loss of the season, as Newton North scored its biggest win of the year, 55-47 over the Rockets.

"We were really hyped up for this game," Newton North star senior Ethan Wright said. "We have always had a rivalry with them. The stands were full. We had our fans behind us and we trusted each other and I think it showed."

One of the concerning problems for Needham was the fact that it had to rely so heavily on stand out point guard Thomas Shaughnessy on the offensive end. In the first half, Shaughnessy was terrific, using his speed and quickness to consistently get to and finish at the cup.

He scored 16 points, but the rest of his teammates combined for only six.

As of a result of this, Needham trailed at the half 31-22. Shaughnessy ended up scoring 27 out of Needham's 47 points on 10/27 shooting, but was 0/9 from deep, while finishing a solid 7/9 from the line.

The rest of team combined for 20 points on 10/30 shooting, 2/10 from three, and 4/11 from the line.

Needham  also came up short in the battle of the boards. 6-foot-5 Newton North sophomore forward Aaron Cooley used his size and length to overwhelm the Rockets on the glass, finishing with 15 rebounds, seven of those coming on the offensive end.

The Tigers outrebounded Needham 51-36 and scored 12 second-chance points to the Rockets' four, which turned out to be the difference in the game.

After a tight first quarter in which the Newton North outscored Needham 18-16, the Tigers changed the momentum of the game in the 2nd quarter. Newton North started the quarter on an 11-2 run to take an 11-point lead. Ethan Wright scored two baskets on that run as a part of his team-high 27 points on the night.

Out of the halftime locker room, Needham went on a 10-0 run to take a 32-31 lead, which was their first since it was 10-9 in the middle of the first quarter. A Shaughnessy lay-up was what gave the Rockets the lead and reenergized the Needham fans in the building. Newton North came up with a huge answer as senior guard Noah Neville drained his only three of the game to give the Tigers back the lead on the very next possession. This basket halted all of the momentum that Needham had built up and allowed the Tigers to never trail the rest of the game.

The fourth quarter was very choppy, as many fouls were called and only seven field goals were made combined between the two teams in the quarter.

The signature moment came with around a 1:30 left in the game with Newton North up six and Needham pressing as they were trying to force a turnover. The Tigers broke the press which left the star Ethan Wright by himself where he then rose up and slammed home a ferocious dunk sending his portion of the crowd into a frenzy, and Needham portion of the crowd to the exits. 

"We executed. Noah (Neville) is a freak athletically," Newton North coach Paul Connolly said. "(Shaughnessy) is a tough cover. I thought Ethan's length bothered him a little bit and so did Noah's athleticism. He still made tough plays. Our guys have continued to get better. This was just the next game."

With its first loss behind them, Needham can now move forward and try to find ways to improve. Newton North on the other hand, proved how good it can be against a marquee opponent, and now must continue this  hot streak, starting with a game at home against Weymouth on January 30th.

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