EAST BOSTON, Mass. -- Sometimes it's just a matter of getting back to basics, and doing what you do best.
In the case of the East Boston boys basketball team, what they do best is play defense. The Jets know they won't fill up a stat sheet in the offensive end. What head coach Malcolm Smith loves to see, however, is numbers spilling into the margins in the turnover column and at least an even matchup in the rebounding section.
No. 21 Eastie rediscovered its dogged, defensive mentality at the right time, forcing 26 turnovers in a 68-42 victory over No. 22 Madison Park Thursday night at East Boston High.
It was a big win for the Jets (12-4) on a number of fronts. First, it puts them up by a game atop the Boston City League's North division ahead of both Madison Park (12-2) and Charlestown, giving them an edge for one of the division's two spots for the upcoming City playoffs. It also wipes away the bad taste of Tuesday's 73-66 loss to the Townies.
And finally, this win was about Eastie getting back to the roots of what has made it a successful basketball team.
"It was a reality check for us on Tuesday night over at Charlestown, in terms of us being a family, us having to fight to the finish and not taking possessions off," admitted Smith. "The bottom line is, it took 15 games for us to realize we're a family, that we need every single person on this team to contribute, both defensively and offensively."
Missing a pair of regulars meant that contributions had to come from everywhere at both ends of the floor. Zack Gattereau led the offense with 15 points, Kyle Jimenez-Fox added 13 and Kenny Ramos chipped in with 12. Defensively, led by Travon Moore and a strong effort off the bench from Algino Jean, the Jets forced 11 of the 26 turnovers in the first quarter and out-rebounded the bigger Cardinals, 36-35.
Gattereau was big in the first half, dropping a 3-pointer at the end of a 12-1, first quarter run and scoring 11 of his 15 in the first 16 minutes. The MP Machine was able to cut the deficit to four points (22-18) midway through the second, but Eastie closed out the half with six free throws and an 11-5 spurt for a 33-23 advantage at the break.
"We were shorthanded this game because we didn't have all of our players so all of us had to bring extra intensity on the defensive end and that's what we did, turn defense to offense easily," Gattereau said. "I was just trying to get offensive boards to get me going and hope my teammates would find me after that."
The Cardinals appeared ready to rally in the third, but every time they put a couple of baskets together, Jimenez-Fox was there to knock down an open three. He did so three times, and each trey put the Jets back up by double digits.
"Our objective was to just play hard and the way we prepared in practice," Jimenez-Fox said. "We had to fast break to beat this team. We weren't trying too many set plays. Our guards were driving down the middle and the wings would collapse and they kicked it out to the wing and I was wide open."
Strong defense makes for a happy coach: Smith couldn't but help smile after watching his squad turn in a superlative defensive performance. The Jets mixed parts of a 1-3-1 zone with a lot of basic man-on-man defense and timely trapping in the corners with great success.
And it was truly a team effort. Six players had at least four rebounds, Gattereau added to his offensive night by keeping close tabs on MP big man Dakim Murray (six points, 12 boards), and everyone on the floor seemed to have a steal or at least be in the mode of disrupting Madison's flow.
"Travon Moore brings more defensive flair than anybody and more grit and inten sity, and Algino Jean came off the bench and sparked our defense tremendously today," Smith praised. "Those two were big and Charles Hines, a sophomore, came off the bench and got a key steal. The thing I'm more proud of than anything, it was 85 percent man to man today and that right there showed the grit of this team."
"I don't usually celebrate wins or get too gassed up about them, but this one felt very good," he continued. "Not just because it was a rivalry but because we got back to being who we were."
Lamenting a tough night: Madison Park coach Dennis Wilson is a veteran of the hardcourt wars, and he has been on both sides of the coin more times than even he would care to count over the years.
David Stewart led all scorers with 17 points and six rebounds and Rayshaw Matthews added 13, but Wilson found very little on the positive side to take away from this loss.
The Cardinals now have to beat Snowden and then capture a rematch with a resurgent Charlestown if they want to reach the City playoffs.
"They are a very aggressive team, they play hard they come at you and you have to be able to deal with that, keep your composure, find open people, attack the basket," Wilson explained. "We didn't do that. We lost our composure. We started off pretty good and then we fell apart, throwing the ball away. Last time I checked, we were wearing burgundy, they were wearing white. We were throwing it to white shirts. We panicked."
"Nobody played well. Nobody," he continued. "We didn't box, we threw the ball away, we didn't attack the basket, we didn't defend, we didn't do anything right. So all we can do, and sometimes good teams have days like that. I'm hoping we got it out of our system. We'll file this away, everyone will be honest with themselves and realize they didn't play well."