BROCKTON, Mass. -- Brockton head coach Bob Boen saw the MIAA Division 1 South boys basketball tournament bracket and felt a touch of anger. After defeating Central Memorial at the buzzer earlier this season, Boen considered a playoff rematch inevitable.
But so soon?
“When we played each other at your place, I said we’d meet at UMass-Boston,” he told Catholic Memorial coach Denis Tobin Saturday when the two skippers opposed each other in the district quarterfinals, referring to the site of the finals and semifinals. “I don’t want to meet you here tonight.”
Although the matchup arrived earlier than he hoped, Boen’s troops were prepared and rose to meet the challenge Saturday evening at Brockton High School. Sayvonn Houston dominated inside with 22 points and 12 rebounds, Jamal Reuben pitched in 20 points, and Brockton led throughout a 76-63 victory.
“To me, those were the best two teams in the bracket playing tonight. We lost a few games we shouldn’t have lost, so we got matched up with them,” Catholic Memorial star Matt Droney said after pouring in a game-high 23 points. “We would have had to beat them at some point anyway, though, and we didn’t. I’ll be very surprised if anyone does.”
Despite landing in a big hole early, Catholic Memorial managed to rattle Brockton’s nerves during the fourth quarter. Droney consistently scored throughout the full 32 minutes, and fellow senior Dan Powers (nine points) surged to life in the second half.
Using a 2-3 zone defense to limit Brockton’s transition opportunities, Catholic Memorial (17-5) clawed back from a 15-point deficit to pull within 53-49 with six minutes remaining.
“I was worried a little bit,” said Houston.
But Brockton (20-2) plugged the holes quickly and the leaking stopped. Over the next four and a half minutes, the Boxers ran off 14 unanswered points to build a 67-49 lead and effectively end the game.
“We heard all the ‘you got lucky’ talk, that we were supposed to lose. We wanted to prove a point that we’re the better team, and we did,” said Houston.
The two teams previously met in an instant classic during mid-February. Despite leading by a comfortable margin for most of the game, Catholic Memorial watched as Will Baker drilled a buzzer-beating three-pointer from well beyond the three-point arc to give Brockton an 88-87 win.
“Honestly, I heard that we were lucky from a lot of people," Reuben said. "But we knew we were the better team coming in. We knew we just had to play hard, play our game...They said CM was going to beat us. We’ve seen a lot of stuff that indicated that people thought CM was going to win. We just used that to our advantage, used it to work harder."
Brockton wasted no time capitalizing on that motivation Saturday evening. After the Boxers seized a 22-15 lead by the end of the first quarter, Tobin told his Catholic Memorial team in the huddle that the start was expected.
“We knew they would come out like gangbusters,” he told the Catholic Memorial players, knowing that the excitement of playing a home postseason game can act like a gallon of 5-Hour Energy.
But Tobin did not foresee the barrage of three-pointers – Brockton hit four in the first quarter and two more in the second – that eventually propelled Brockton in front, 43-28, just before halftime.
“They had guys hit shots who we didn’t think were good shooters. All their guys stepped up tonight, kudos to them,” Tobin said.
“That was probably the opposite of the game plan,” explained Boen. “The game plan was more to try to attack the basket and go to the big guy down low.”
Long-distance shooting would come in handy again later for Brockton. Chris Siggers went on a personal 5-0 run in the final 10 seconds before halftime to make the score 43-33 at intermission, and the Knights scored the first seven points of the third quarter, holding Brockton scoreless for four consecutive minutes to draw within 43-40.
The Boxers were on their heels due to Catholic Memorial’s zone defense, failing to attack the hoop like they had in the first half.
But just when Brockton’s offense looked it’s most stagnant, Reuben drilled back-to-back threes from the right wing.
“We were a little hesitant. We wanted to be aggressive, we knew we needed to be aggressive. Coming out on the court, coach drew up a play to get me open. And I just hit it,” said Reuben. “Coach doesn’t want us just standing around the three-point line, but we have a lot of shooters, and coach knows it.”
The triples made it 49-40, but CM wouldn’t allow itself to be buried easily. The Knights again dug in defensively, cutting the deficit to 53-49 before Brockton applied its finishing kick.
“We kind of got tired. Them jumping out early caught up to us in the fourth quarter. We wore ourselves out trying to catch them,” said Tobin.
An upsetting end: Houston held his younger sister in his arms at midcourt after the game, with a smile on his face, knowing that his high school career would extend at least one more game. Brockton moves on to meet Newton North in the semifinals Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at UMass-Boston.
But for Catholic Memorial’s seniors, Saturday’s defeat marked the end.
“It’s going to be tough. I’ve been with them for six years. They’ve been such a pleasure to coach and contributed so much to the program. It’s going to be tough saying goodbye,” said Tobin of his seniors, some of whom had been involved with the school’s basketball program since seventh grade.
The coach’s sentiment was reciprocated.
“He’s been everything for me. I almost went to prep school every year, but stayed – mainly because of him, but also because I wanted to win a state championship. I wouldn’t have done it any different though,” said Droney.
Along with Powers, Droney made a strong impression on Boen during their time at Catholic Memorial.
“Those two kids, they’re the best two shooters you’ll ever see, those two kids for Catholic Memorial,” the Brockton coach said.
Blakely The Aggressor: Jaylen Blakely doesn’t always play with the speed Boen prefers. But on Saturday, the ultra-quick point guard controlled the tempo and created easy looks for his teammates.
The junior finished with eight assists to match his eight points, committing very few mistakes while carving apart Catholic Memorial’s man-to-man defense.
“We’ve been telling him – Baker does what we want – get the ball and get it upcourt. Tonight Blakely did that much better. He got the ball and got it up court as fast as he can,” said Boen.
After Brockton’s lead dwindled to four points in the fourth quarter, Blakely took control. During a one-minute span, he assisted on a Reuben fast break layup, set up Houston in perfect position underneath the basket (Houston got fouled and made both free throws) and hit a runner in the lane, spurring Brockton’s game-sealing 14-0 run.