BEVERLY, Mass. -- Nik Stauskas wrapped his arms around Eli Lubick, as his St. Mark's teammate approached the free throw line to shoot the game-clinching free throws.
It was poetic in a way: the son of St. Mark’s coach David Lubick had the opportunity to put an exclamation point on the season and secure the NEPSAC Class AA Championship that had eluded this senior class the last two seasons.
His older brother Nate, now a starting forward at Georgetown, watched in the right corner, hoping his brother would have the opportunity to feel the championship feeling he had when he won the same title at St. Mark’s years ago.
Eli hit them both. The clock hit zero, and the whole team rejoiced at center court, celebrating the Lions’ 59-53 victory over the Tilton Rams. It was an unknown feeling for Tilton, which had previously won four straight NEPSAC championships -- three straight Class B titles from 2008-10, and last year's Class AA title against these same Lions.
“This is so crazy for us, because after last year’s loss to them, for like, a year exactly to this day, we’ve been thinking about this rematch against Tilton,” said Stauskas, who finished with 19 points and has signed with Michigan for next season. “There’s no better feeling in the world than just working hard and achieving your goals.”
St. Mark’s (26-1) jumped out to an early lead behind the shooting of players like Jaymie Spears (eight points, four steals), Aaron Falzon (eight points, five rebounds), and Lubick (12 points).
While Stauskas and Arizona-bound 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski get their share of publicity, and rightfully so, it was the contributions of the players around them that allowed them to end their high school careers on such a high note.
“Those are all big-time players,” said Stauskas. “A guy like Jaymie has been working so hard this year and really stepped up big for us today. Eric Green (four points, five rebounds) stepped up big, Aaron is only a freshman so he’s definitely going to have some big years ahead of him.”
As the crowd thinned outside the Endicott College gymnasium, players trickled out of the locker room and into the lobby to board their respective buses back to their campuses. The Tilton (27-5) players were gone just moments after Lubick entered the St. Mark’s locker room.
Months from now, the St. Mark’s starting five will be at different colleges around the country beginning a new chapter in their lives. Who knows where their basketball careers will take them. No matter, they will always be able to look back and know they went out a champion.
Neutralizing Nerlens: St. Mark’s accomplished what so many teams want to do when playing Tilton: keeping the ball away from Nerlens Noel on offense. The nation's No. 1 overall senior can single-handedly change a game with his defense. St. Mark’s has it’s own big man in Kaleb Tarczewski, the No. 5 overall player in the Class of 2012.
When looking at the scorebook and seeing Tarczewski’s eight points and nine rebounds, one can think it was because Noel neutralized him. It had more to do with Lubick’s decision to play his offense out on the perimeter.
The team took advantage, hitting 10 three-pointers. Twelve of Stauskas’ 19 points came from behind the 3-point line.
“We know Nerlens and Goodluck (Okonoboh) are big-time shot blockers,” he said. “Our main goal today was to get a lot of drive-and-kicks for threes. We have a lot of guys that can shoot the ball. Our real key was to get into the key as far as we could and kick it right back out for open three’s.”
Noel’s shot-blocking is so feared that in one possession in the first half, Eric Green caught an outlet pass and saw Noel separating him from the basket. Rather than going at the 6-foot-11 center and risk getting his shot blocked, Green circled back to the perimeter and waited for his teammates to set up the offense.
“We wanted to not challenge them at their strength, which is the rim,” said David Lubick. “We thought if Kaleb could challenge Nerlens and get into his body and get him into foul trouble, that’s great. He used a couple of nice up-fakes and stuff like that, but we didn’t want the rest of our guys attacking the basket. Even an athletic guy like Eric Green or Nik Stauskas who can attack the basket, we didn’t want them to do it because we were afraid we’d get our shots blocked, then they’d go off to the races the other way.”
“Our focus was on making plays on the perimeter and getting into the paint in order to find somebody,” he added. “Consequently, they had to take Goodluck out of the game and adjust to us. If we had gotten behind, they wouldn’t have had to do that. Our guys doing what the gameplan dictated allowed us to dictate the terms on personnel.”
Loss of Selden hurt: Tilton appeared to struggle at times without its starting point guard Wayne Selden. The Boston resident and one of the nation's top sophomore players in the country, has been sidelined for weeks with an ankle injury. He had no choice but to watch the game from the bench in street clothes holding crutches.
“Him playing definitely makes a big difference for them,” said Stauskas. “We wish he could have played because it’s obviously not the same without him, but injuries happen. You just have to deal with them, so it is what it is. He’s probably one of the guys that creates most off the dribble for them, so he’s definitely a huge difference-maker.
"Georges Niang played a huge game for them (19 points, six rebounds) so he definitely stepped up. Everyone else was doing their normal job. They’re a heck of a team, so we feel blessed just to beat them.”
Warm surprise: Lubick received a nice surprise just moments before tipoff. As he was standing on the sideline during team warmups, he turned around and was noticeably taken aback when he saw his son Nate, a sophomore at Georgetown, standing their to greet him.
He was not expecting him to be there, since he had played against Marquette the previous night, but he flew up to surprise his dad and cheer him on during the important game.
“That was a huge surprise for me,” he said. “I was a little steamed and perturbed that my wife didn’t show up early and on time. I was thinking, ‘Where is she?’ We’ve been through this together for a long time, and then I figured out why she was late: she was picking up Nate. It was great, just unbelievable.”