LAWRENCE, Mass. -- It is one of the great rivalries in Massachusetts high school basketball, and each time Central Catholic and Andover meet on the hardwood it rarely disappoints.
On Saturday night it was No. 1 Central Catholic (12-1) who held court and defeated No. 7 Andover (10-3), 64-51, in a match-up of Merrimack Valley Conference powers.
It was a physical battle from tip to buzzer but it was Central Catholic’s size and aggressive man-to-man defense that proved to be the determining factors.
“I thought defensively, we played pretty well,” Central Catholic head coach Rick Nault said after the game. “I did not think we were sharp offensively and we did not execute very well but I thought our defense really carried us.”
Central’s frontcourt unit of Doug Gemmell, Nick Cambio and Joel Berroa did a great job of containing Andover’s post game, led by senior forward Sam Dowden. Dowden, fresh off a season-high 32-points in a win over Chelmsford, was held to just two points in the first half and nine points for the game.
“I like my three forwards defensively,” Nault said. “Our whole game plan was to try and slow Dowden down and to control (Chris) Dunn on the perimeter and I thought we did a good job of that tonight.”
In a back and forth first half it was Central guard Jamahl Lopez who scored crucial baskets at the end of each quarter to help give the Raiders a 33-26 lead at the half.
Raiders junior sharpshooter Tyler Nelson scored 13 of his game-high 18 points in the first half, including three 3-pointers.
Central extended their lead to 11 points after three quarters, and held Andover to just seven pints in the fourth quarter as Berroa led the charge on both ends of the floor.
“I thought he was the difference,” Nault said of Berroa. “Physically he is built like a man and tonight he played like a man.”
Berroa finished with 12 points (10 in the second half), 10 rebounds, three assists and three blocks.
“In the first and second quarters I was just trying to be patient,” Berroa said. “In the third my team talked to me and told me that they needed me and I came out and did my best to help”
Cambio added 14 points and also grabbed 10 rebounds and Gemmell finished the game with six points and nine boards for Central.
Dunn and Max Silveira led Andover in scoring with 11 points each
Round Two: Central Catholic has now won the first two, of at least three games this season, with Andover. Their next meeting will take place on February 15 at Andover.
“When you play against a team like that, who defends so well, it is going to be ugly,” Nault said. “They make you play ugly and I think we make teams play ugly.”
In their first meeting of the season Central came from behind late in the fourth quarter to defeat Andover, 65-63, in the semifinals of the annual Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament.
Stretch Run: Central remains undefeated in Massachusetts play with their only loss coming to national power St. Anthony’s (N.J.), 54-50, at last month's Shooting Touch Shootout. The road ahead becomes increasingly tougher for the Raiders as they prepare for MIAA tournament play.
Their brutal schedule begins with a match-up at North Andover on Tuesday in the first of their two remaining league match-ups with the Scarlet Knights.
After a Friday night game against Methuen Central faces S. John’s Prep, Lawrence, Lowell, North Andover and Andover over a brutal five game span.
“I think this is a special group,” Nault stressed. “I think we can do special things. Andover is a tough team to beat on our floor or on any floor.