BOSTON -- A lesser team might have evaporated in the heat.
Brockton trailed Charlestown by seven points at the TD Garden with a tick more than four minutes left in Monday’s Division 1 state semifinals. Charlestown’s Tyrese Hoxter had already netted nine straight points in the fourth quarter, and the smooth lefty was threatening to shove Brockton tumbling into its grave.
The Boxers shoved back.
They rattled off the next seven points, eventually forcing overtime, and William Baker drilled two free throws with 3.6 seconds left in the extra session to ice Brockton’s 67-64 win and send the Boxers to Saturday’s state finals.
“Just stay calm,” explained Brockton star Sayvonn Houston, who scored a team-high 22 points to go with 13 rebounds. “If you panic, you lose.”
The Boxers didn’t panic. They made adjustments. Hoxter had been torching them with dribble penetration, so coach Bob Boen called for a 1-3-1 trap.
Outside shots weren’t falling, so Brockton attacked the glass. Houston had a putback hoop to cut the deficit to 55-50 with four minutes left. Jaylen Blakely (15 points) was fouled in transition after receiving a great outlet pass from Houston and hit one of two free throws.
Jamal Reuben, who started slowly, snatched a missed Blakely three and followed with his first field goal of the game. His second didn’t take so long to arrive. Reuben stole a cross-court pass on the very next possession and finished a lay-in on the break, tying the score at 55-all with two minutes left.
The teams played the rest of regulation to a draw, with Charlestown’s Tyrik Jackson swatting Baker’s baseline drive at the buzzer to keep the score 57-57.
Reuben started the overtime period with a bucket just five seconds in and followed with a strong baseline take a minute and a half later, giving his team a 61-57 advantage.
The talented small forward finished with 10 points after scoring just two during the first 28 minutes.
“Even when I’m struggling, coach and my teammates just want me to keep doing what I do, because they know it’s going to come eventually,” he explained.
Charlestown responded strongly, pulling within one at 63-62 with 16.9 seconds left. But Omar Orriols missed the second of two free throws and Houston sank two charity shots at the other end to push Brockton’s lead to 65-62. When Baker rebounded a Fernandez miss on the ensuring possession and was fouled with 3.6 seconds left, he needed just one make.
He got two, making the tally 67-62 before Iser Barnes (12 points) added a meaningful bucket as the clock ran out.
It didn’t take long for Houston to realize he was headed to Worcester’s DCU Center on Saturday to play for the state championship.
“Oh, that sunk in. That sunk in as soon as the buzzer went off,” he said.
But some of Houston’s teammates wanted to wait before moving on from Monday’s triumph. After changing in the locker room, Blakely and junior guard Tyler Kim took turns laying on the Celtics logo at midcourt, almost as if doing snow angels in the very circle where Kevin Garnett jumps center.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Kim said. “So why not?”
Designated Shooter: Drew Fiske missed his first two three-point attempts, but Brockton’s designated sharp-shooter isn’t one to become gun-shy. His mentality –- which goes something like, “If you’re hot, keep shooting, and if you’re not hot, shoot until you are” –- resulted in two crucial makes.
The backup guard sank back-to-back three-pointers to even the score at 44-all to end the third quarter, unleashing a primal scream after drilling a three in front of Brockton’s bench to beat the quarter buzzer.
The first three came from behind the NBA arc.
“It was deep. Coach usually yells at me for shooting so deep, but I can hit them,” said Fiske.
“That’s the new game in high school. Shoot that ball deeper, deeper, deeper. I tell them, ‘We can get it to you at the line, you don’t have to be way out there,’” Boen said. “But he’s a tremendous shooter. He does that in practice all the time –- bang, bang, bang. And it’s great, because it teaches us to cover three-point shooters like Charlestown has. We say in practice, ‘You can’t let him have that shot.’”
Hoxter’s Hot Hand: After Fiske knotted the score to end the third quarter, Hoxter pieced together a personal 9-2 flurry to give Charlestown a 53-46 lead with 5:35 left.
Elusive in the half-court offense and explosive in the open court, the point guard continuously paraded into the paint.
“He was doing a nice job clearing out. They have two three-point shooters who you can’t leave, so we were having trouble giving help on [Hoxter],” said Boen. “He was killing us. He was going here, there and everywhere. Those right-handed shots he made were fantastic, because he’s a lefty. Every one he made was all net. I kept thinking, ‘That’s not a good shot,’ and swish, swish, swish.”
Brockton switched to a 1-3-1 trap a couple possessions later and the Boxers’ comeback ensued. Hoxter managed just four points the rest of the way.
“It got to the point our offense wasn’t doing anything, and we really had to change the tempo of the game,” Boen explained. “It worked. I’ll assume [Charlestown coach Edson Cardoso’s] players are such good players that if they hadn’t been surprised by it, they would have torn it apart. Because you usually can’t do that when the other team has a couple great shooters like he has.”
Once the game tightened, Brockton switched from the trap because Boen feared Charlestown would adjust. But the coach still had a trick up his sleeve to slow Hoxter: guard Will Baker.
“He was dribbling the ball and hurting us,” Boen said of Hoxter, “and Baker’s probably our best on-dribble defender. And he did steal that one from him, which was a great steal.”
The steal Boen referred to came with the score knotted at 57-all and less than a minute remaining in regulation. Hoxter dribbled out front as Charlestown had a chance to seize the lead, but Baker hounded him, drew a steal, and even drew a foul on Hoxter during the scramble for the ball.
Baker missed both the resulting free throws, but redeemed himself by sinking the finishers in overtime.