LOWELL, Mass. -- It wasn’t the cleanest or most artistic basketball game you will ever see, but that is to be expected only two games into the high school basketball season.
Regardless of style points, No. 1 Central Catholic still left Lowell High School with a 53-39 win Friday night.
Both teams came out sluggish to begin the game. Lowell was kept off the board until midway through the first quarter, but when it finally scored, it erased the small lead Central had built up, putting the Raiders back on their heels.
“They came out in the first half and just took it to us,” said Central Catholic coach Rick Nault. “They held us to six points in the first quarter. We pride ourselves on playing uptempo basketball, so to hold us to six points in a quarter is a credit to them.”
Luis Puello supplied all 6 first quarter points for Central (2-0). Lowell kept the pressure on in the second, generating points off turnovers and keeping its offensive pace up.
Lowell (1-1) took a 24-15 lead into halftime, leaving one to wonder if it could keep the momentum going into the second half and possibly close out the game.
That talk was quickly negated. It took Central three minutes to erase the entire second half deficit and 6 minutes to take a 29-26 lead that it would never relinquish in route to the victory.
“I think, for us, we were just a little more controlled in the second half offensively,” said Nault. “We made more of a conscientious effort to pound the ball inside. We got Luis going a little bit, got some of our post action going, and then we made stops. It was a 16-point swing, then we were up 7 at the end of the third. Overall, it was just our defense and our execution on the offensive end.”
Doug Gemmel was the main benefactor of the reinvigorated post game. He had 9 points and 4 rebounds in the game, most of which came in the second half. He will play a big role in the post for Central Catholic this season, replacing a graduated Jimmy Zenevitch, who now plays basketball at Assumption College.
“We had 4 total rebounds in the first half,” said Nault “You’re not going to be able to run, you’re not going to be able to get up and down if you’re not rebounding the basketball. We did a much better job of rebounding in the second half.”
Central outscored Lowell 16-5 in the fourth quarter to close out the game in convincing fashion.
The Red Raiders did not have a double-digit scorer in the game. Kareem Davis lead the way for Lowell with 8 points and 3 rebounds.
Puello finished the game as the leading scorer for Central with 17 points, three rebounds, and two steals.
Rallying point: The nine-point halftime deficit was the first bit of adversity Central had faced since losing to St. John’s Prep in the playoffs last year. Puello, being a veteran presence and a senior leader on the team, knew what his team needed to do to turn it around.
“It was just about focus and intensity and concentration really,” he said. “In the first quarter we were just kind of going through the motions, so in the second quarter we knew we had to turn it on or we’d lose and get blown out.”
“They were very energized to play us right off the bat,” he added. “When one team runs through the motions and one team comes out energized, turning that around becomes the game right there.”
Good mental test: Even though Nault wasn’t happy with his team’s performance overall, he still saw it as a good mental test the team can build on going forward.
“I was talking about this with my assistant coach Kevin McCarthy: this is going to carry us a little bit I think,” said Nault.
Puello agreed, saying, "Being down by a large number for us, nine points, and being able to respond in the third quarter the way we did, I think shows a lot about the character of our team.”
Puello continued, “I like the fact that the game was away at Lowell, where people say is a hard place to play. We got the test early and I think we did well. First quarter was kind of a little bit different, but as soon as we got into the swing of things, everything got a lot easier. Its going to be better for us later in the season, so I’m proud of that.”
Holiday break: This was the last game for each team before the Christmas holiday break. Lowell will get back on the court January 6 against Dracut. Central Catholic will be off until Dec. 23 when they play in the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament against Methuen at Lawrence High School.