FRANKLIN, Mass. –- Almost right away, one can tell this is a vastly different Catholic Memorial squad from the one that claimed the Catholic Conference outright a season ago.
Gone are two 1,000-point scorers, as well as the starting backcourt (one to prep school, one to an ACL tear during football). And with it has seemingly gone the offensive wizardry –- at least for now.
But on this opening night of the 2012-13 season, in front of a familiar foe’s hostile crowd, the Knights proved they can at least hold their own in the defensive end. Behind an oppressive 2-2-1 full court press and some very physical play on the boards, the Knights built a double-digit lead early over rival Franklin and made it stick, prevailing 66-56 in both teams’ season-opener.
“We just played hard,” said CM sophomore Giulien Smith, who led all scorers with 18 points. “We just have to cut down on the turnovers and we should be good for the season.”
It was a tightly-contested game early, but late in the first quarter the Knights capitalized on several turnovers in the press to close out with a 7-0 run and take a 20-14 lead. In the second quarter, Franklin was held to just 2-for-12 from the field, as the Knights went into the break with a 36-25 advantage.
Trailign 48-40 headed into the final stanza, Franklin was on the cusp of building some momentum when CM senior forward and captain John McDonough, the Knights’ pugilist under the glass, went to the bench with a fourth foul just one minute into the quarter. Craig Anderson then sunk both of his free throws to make it 50-44.
That was as close as the Panthers cut it, however. Coming down the other end, Smith pulled up for a 15-footer near the charity stripe, then the Knights immediately went to their familiar press to force another turnover.
Two minutes later, Rich Lopez (14 points, six rebounds) came up with a layup, then laid out for a loose ball going the other way after 6-foot-6 sophomore David Watkins (six rebounds) stretched out for a deflection in the press. From his knees, Lopez hurled the ball downcourt to D.J. McClure, who was fouled and hit the front end of two shots for a 57-48 lead with 3:30 to go.
The next time down, McDonough chucked a long lob over the top of Franklin’s press to McClure for another easy basket, followed by a great dish from Pat Hurley to Lopez in transition to give the Knights an 11-point lead with less than two minutes to go.
“Typical first game, lot of sloppiness out of both teams,” CM head coach Dennis Tobin said. “I was very happy with the effort that we gave. We're a physically tough team this year. We get a lot of the 50-50 loose balls, we get a lot of the rebounds we shouldn't be getting.
“They made a nice run down the stretch at us and cut it to like six or five. But we kept our poise, moved the ball and were able to get a couple layups out of that.”
Stalking Sammy: Senior point guard Sam Bohmiller is an early leading candidate for Hockomock League MVP, and the identity of the Panthers’ program with his even all-around game, but the Knights made life difficult for him tonight. The 5-foot-10 Bohmiller is known for his accuracy from the perimeter, and ended up with 13 points, but that came on a forgettable 5-for-15 effort from the field.
Simply put, CM made Bohmiller work for his points.
“Basically we wanted to use three or four bodies to tire him (Bohmiller) down,” Tobin said. “He's a terrific player and we wanted to make it hard for him to get the ball once he gave it up in the half-court. Then, look to help, try to make the other guys beat us and not let Bohmiller beat us.”
In the post-game, Franklin coach Dean O’Connor found himself absorbing all the blame, telling reporters “That's on me, I didn’t have them prepared for the intensity that they had.” When it came to Bohmiller, O’Connor cited his team’s struggles screening, and attributed Hurley to much of the troubles.
“They were doing a good job off the ball and Hurley did a good job,” O’Connor said. “Not too many guys can contain him off the dribble, but he did a good job of keeping him in front and the other guys did a good job of denying it.
“We turned into a lot of dribble and not screening and cutting, which is what we want to do. We didn’t make good use of the dribble. Then they got all the hustle plays -- rebounds, loose balls, things like that.”
Bottled Up: In trying to break the Knights’ press, the Panthers countered with diagonal passes through the zone, but some terrific awareness and activity in the backcourt by the Knights made that strategy difficult all night.
The Knights’ press tonight rotated Hurley, Dennis Tobin Jr., and Kevin Claflin way up top, pressing the inbounders; behind them at midcourt were a rotation of Lopez, Smith and Watkins near midcourt on either side of the circle; and way back near the free throw line was McDonough playing centerfield.
Making it all work seamlessly was Lopez, whom the elder Tobin called “probably our toughest player”.
“If you see a ball on the floor he's going to get it,” Tobin said. “He takes charges, does all the things that we ask of him, has a nice soft shot that he really didn't demonstrate tonight but I would say he's the heart and soul of the team.”