Thursday, January 11, 2018

Tournament Tease: Cambridge, Newton North Headline Loaded Slate of Friday Night Games

Newton North star Ethan Wright throws one down.   Photo by Eamon Convey.

It may only be the second week in January, but Friday night will certainly feel like tournament time for many teams across Massachusetts.

A bevy of matchups are sure to appeal to even the most casual fan as in some cases historic league rivalries are set to tipoff while in others a top non-league showdown is in order.

Four matchups standout, as No. 4 Cambridge vs. No. 11 Newton North, No. 9 Mansfield vs. No. 7 Franklin, Catholic Memorial vs. No. 8 BC High, and No. 3 Lowell vs. No. 19 Lawrence, combine to feature seven teams in our latest MIAA Basketball Top-25 poll including five in the top-10.

With standings atop the premiere leagues in the state on the line and season long streaks potentially in jeopardy, here is a look at some of the top games on the docket for Friday.

No. 4 Cambridge (8-0) at No. 11 Newton North (5-2), 630pm

There is no question that both of these sides would love to ignore the elephant in the room heading into their Friday night clash.

That would be impossible, however, as Cambridge’s incredible 53 game winning streak is what makes this one that much more appealing.

The Falcons have been tested on a couple of occasions so far this season as they escaped with a two point win over Portsmouth (NH) and very nearly fell to Brookline at home just after the New Year.

Ethan Wright and the Tigers are sure to present a whole different challenge to Cambridge in front of what is sure to be a packed house at Newton North High School.

Wright is averaging over 27 points per game and Aaron Cooley has shown he can breakout in key moments as the sophomore forward scored 22 points in the Tigers win over Catholic Memorial.

“(The winning streak) is definitely something you can’t really ignore,” said Wright. “It’s awesome to get out of the league and play some schools we don’t always get to play. It just makes us a better team going against high level opponents.”

Cambridge has been bolstered thus far by its play in the paint. Khai Smith has become a double-double machine while Jonathan Cenescar has developed a strong relationship with the offensive glass. Aidan Keefer and Adrian Williams provide the Falcons with threats from the outside.

The Pick: In a game that is sure to go down to the wire, expect Newton North to step up defensively and limit Cambridge’s ability to shoot from the beyond the arc. Wright and company make one more play in the game's closing moments and Paul Connolly’s Tigers halt the now more than two year long Cambridge winning streak.

61-56, Newton North

No. 9 Mansfield (7-1, 5-0) at No. 7 Franklin (5-1, 4-1), 630pm

Just a week ago this Hockomock Kelly-Rex battle would not have been looked at the same.

With Mansfield sharpshooter Tyler Boulter back from injury, however, it takes on a whole new feel.

So far this season, Franklin has knocked off Division 2 contender Arlington and Catholic Memorial behind breakout performances from Matt Elias and Jack Rodgers who are now producing in an offense that is clicking on all cylinders.

On Tuesday the Panthers picked up their fifth consecutive win – a 72-60 victory over Taunton that saw sophomore stars Chris Edgehill and Jalen Samuels combine for 39 points.

Boulter, meanwhile, turns the Hornets into a whole new beast. A perimeter threat and one of the Hornets’ top defenders, Boulter gives Mansfield an extra weapon to go with Johnny McCoy and sharp shooter Justin Vine.

As the Panthers have picked up their play in recent weeks so too have the Hornets.

Since a loss to BC High, Mansfield has knocked off Bridgewater-Raynham and fellow Hockomock League foes in Taunton and Attleboro.

The Pick: While is there still a long way to go and in a league as competitive as the Hockomock nothing can be taken for granted, this one is sure to go a long way in determining the eventual Kelly-Rex champion.

Mansfield has picked up their play offensively, but Panthers’ senior captain Paul Mahon seems to shine in these moments and a big night for him behind the three point line lifts Franklin to a home league win.

65-60, Franklin

Catholic Memorial (5-3, 2-0) at No. 8 BC High (5-1, 1-0), 7pm

It seems only fitting that one of the top rivalries in the state that pits Catholic Memorial and BC High against one another is commencing on a Friday night.

This rivalry, however, has been one sided in recent history. Catholic Memorial has won eight of nine matchups dating back to the 2013-14 season. Five of those eight wins for the Knights have come by double figures.

While the classics between these two teams speak for themselves so too does the individual talent.  Games over the last three years have featured stars like Davidson’s Kellan Grady, Dartmouth’s Giulien Smith, and now UMass Amherst’s Carl Pierre. Other notables like Brandon Twitty, Matt Hanna, Ulyen Coleman and Jack Loughnane have made their mark at the college level.

“It’s a rivalry that includes every student, not just the players who are competing on the court,” said Hanna, a 2016 Catholic Memorial graduate. “When the season starts its always a goal not to get beat by the Eagles.”

After a bit of a rocky start the high-flying, pressing Knights seem to have turned a corner. They picked up a win to open their league schedule versus Malden Catholic before edging a loaded St. John’s Prep team to rebound from losses to Franklin and Newton North.

Kani Glover is the Knights’ leading offensive threat, while freshman Kurtis Henderson has impressed at the point.

On the flip side is an Eagles team that too seems to be playing their basketball to date. Coming off a 73-64 road win over Mansfield, BC High knocked off Malden Catholic on Tuesday night to start off 1-0 in Catholic Conference play. Travis Evee is averaging over 20 points per game while the Eagles’ have allowed over 55 points just once so far this season.

The Pick: You cannot get more two contrasting playing styles than these two as the Knights, always looking to run, are sure to try to get the score up into the high 70s while BC High will hope to execute their half court offense and get the ball down low.

This looks bound to turn into a “home picks the winner” series where the Eagles are able to use their size and length to benefit from the big court on Friday night before the Knights exact their revenge at their place in February.

70-61, BC High

No. 3 Lowell (7-0, 4-0) at No. 19 Lawrence (8-1, 4-0), 715pm

One matchup that is sure to not suffer from an offensive shortage is this Merrimack Valley Conference heavyweight battle between Lawrence and Lowell.

Coming into the season the Lancers had plenty of hype and so far that hype has turned into wins on the court. Luis Reynoso and Juan Felix-Rodriguez are as dynamic and exciting to watch as they come using their quickness and athleticism to score in droves.

Reminiscent of those Catholic Memorial teams from years back, the Lancers have the ability to seemingly flip the switch in a heartbreak, beginning an offensive avalanche that shows no signs of slowing down.

Lowell, for its part, possesses arguably the top player in the state in Alex Rivera.

Rivera, a UMass Lowell commit, has shown that not only is he lethal from a catch-and-shoot standpoint, but he can also make it look easy off the dribble. In the Red Raiders 72-58 win over Central Catholic, Rivera went for 27 points and 12 rebounds while knocking down seven three pointers.

While Reynoso and Rodriguez possess talents that Lowell has yet to see so far this season, junior Justin Villanueva can be expected to be up to the task.

The 6-foot-3-inch guard is often put in charge of containing the opposing team’s biggest threat. That was on full display in the Red Raiders win over Central Catholic where Villanueva held Colin Bradanese to seven points.

“This is a very big game for us,” said Rivera. “It’s a great way to see how the second part of the season is going to look like. This will come down to 50/50 balls and who just wants it more.”

The Pick: It should be of little surprise to no one if these two teams end up meeting deep in the Division 1 North tournament. They very well could be the two top teams in the section. This is sure to go down to the wire with Rivera and Reynoso trading score for score throughout most of the second half.

The Lancers will have the opportunity at revenge but Rivera knocks down a clutch three pointer late to hand No. 3 Lowell a monster league win.

76-73 Lowell

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