Recap: No. 1 Central Catholic 77, Lawrence 59

LAWRENCE, Mass. -- Three games, three days, no problem.

After being narrowly edged out by national power St. Anthony (N.J.) on Friday, and surviving a furious Andover squad on Thursday, Central Catholic won the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament Final Saturday in convincing fashion with a 77-59 victory over Lawrence, at Lawrence High School.

While some wondered whether Central (6-1) would have its legs under them after playing two highly physical and emotional games, it exploded with 27 points in the first quarter and immediately put Lawrence back on its heels.

What lethargy?

“I said to them, ‘Tonight’s not a physical challenge tonight, it’s not an emotional challenge, it’s a mental challenge,” said Central coach Rick Nault. “Can you get over the mindset of being tired, being emotionally drained, and they came out right from the start and they scored 27 points in the first quarter. They were ready to go.”

Central was paced by the ever-energetic Doug Gemmell (17 points, eight rebounds) down low. If there was a Raider player who you could understand would be gassed, after having to deal with Andover’s Sam Dowden and the workhorses of St. Anthony’s, it would be Gemmell. But there he was, challenging for every rebound and contesting shots against Lawrence’s (5-1) Roberto Speing (14 points, nine rebounds) and Tre’von Farley (11 points, six rebounds).

“I just want to make sure that we come out every night ready, and we’re ready to get a win,” said Gemmell. “Every night we just have to come out and play as hard as we can. I don’t think the games effected us really. Practice is harder than the games for me.”

Central started the second quarter on an 8-0 run and there was no looking back from there. Its lead was never less than double digits for the rest of the game.

Brief downshift: For the first half of the third quarter, it appeared that Central lost its energy. Lawrence’s ball pressure and transition game picked up and it slowly chipped away at the lead. Was this the point when Central’s schedule would catch up with them? Would the change in momentum, the extra energy of the cross-town rivalry, and hostility in the building be too much for Central to hold back?

It was not. The team closed out the third quarter back up 20 points, but that didn’t mean that Nault wasn’t concerned.

“I absolutely thought we lost our legs,” he said. “Until the end of the third quarter, we outscored them by one. I said to my assistant, ‘We played terrible that quarter, and we won the quarter by one. I felt the game was slipping away and then I look up when the quarter sounds and the lead went from 19 to 20 and I thought, ‘Well okay, we’re in pretty good shape right now.”

Defensive woes: Lawrence’s biggest obstacle is not a lack of talent, but a lack of defensive consistency. Saturday, the team would show up in spurts, like in that early charge in the third quarter, where it could create havoc for the opponent.

Then, there were other times where the defense would be so concerned with stopping the ball that it would over-rotate and allow a Central player to cut to the weak side low block for an easy basket. Also, the ball handler consistently drove to the basket, then kicked it back out to a wide open shooter in the corner.

If Central has an abundance of anything, it is an abundance of quality jump shooters. With those types of defensive breakdowns, Lawrence will have a difficult time beating tough competition.

Nelson on his mark: Tyler Nelson, one of Central’s dangerous jump shooters, went off for 22 points Saturday, including four three-pointers. After going 4-for-11 from the field against St. Anthony and underperforming (by his standards) the last few games, he came into Saturday with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove.

“I struggled against Andover, struggled early on in this tournament, shots weren’t falling,” he said. “I was kind of in a mini-slump. Last night (against St. Anthony) I played a lot better and tonight I really stepped up so hopefully I’ll be back to normal.”

For Central to accomplish what it wants to this season, having a locked-in Nelson will be crucial.

“Tyler felt like he had something to prove tonight,” said Nault. “He played OK last night, terrible against Andover two nights ago, and then really struggled against Haverhill last week. He had a chip on his shoulder tonight. He wanted to play real well, and he came out playing real strong.”