HYDE PARK, Mass. –- Call it the biggest comeback of the season.
Sixth-ranked Brighton (10-3) was down by 19 going into the fourth quarter of their showdown with favored New Mission on Thursday night, but behind near-perfect offensive execution in the fourth quarter, the Bengals were able to pull out a 57-52 victory.
Mission (10-3) came out of the gates on a tear, with a 16-2 run to start the game and building up what seemed to be an insurmountable 36-22 halftime lead. Behind 12 points from Percio Gomez and 11 from Juwan Gooding over the first two quarters, the Titans’ young guards combined to outscore Brighton by halftime.
Staring down an even larger deficit going into the fourth quarter, Brighton never backed down, even being down by 19 points and getting severely outrebounded over the course of the entire game.
“We just kept pressing on the guys that we just have to keep pressing, keep working, and just keep chipping away," Brighton coach Hugh Coleman said. "I told them at halftime, ‘One possession at a time’, and we switched up the lineup a little bit, put in a couple different guys who gave us some energy, and it was one possession at a time.”
Mojica comes up big: Junior guard Mark Mojica certainly wasn’t expected to be the guy down the stretch for Brighton. Mojica was 0-for-6 on from behind the three-point arc through the first 30 minutes of the game, but knocked down two huge threes in the final two minutes, including two critical steals that helped seal what is perhaps the most impressive come-from-behind win in MIAA hoops this year.
Late in the first half, after Mojica had missed three pointers on two of the previous four Brighton possessions, he hesitated and passed up on a wide open three from the top of the arc. The ball tipped off a Brighton rebounder and went out of bounds, and Coleman berated Mojica while he got back on defense for not taking the shot, especially from a spot on the floor where he likes to shoot the most.
“Mark struggled shooting the ball, he got down on himself. At the end of the first half he hesitated because I guess he had missed a couple in a row. So I took him out of the game, because he didn’t shoot the ball,” Coleman said.
“I told him, ‘I’ve got confidence in you to shoot the ball, and you need to have confidence in you shooting the ball. I don’t take you out when you miss two in a row, but I’m going to take you out when you don’t take the next one. You have to think as a shooter I’m going to hit the next two or three’.”
Beating the press: New Mission’s 1-2-2 zone press was completely overwhelming for Brighton in the first half. Playing far out of character, Malik James turned the ball over four times in the first half—mainly due to the amount of pressure and swarming that was coming from New Mission’s defenders. Even when Brighton didn’t turn the ball over, though, they often took quick shots and rarely worked the ball around to get the best shot. It was a problem that Coleman said he addressed with his team at halftime.
“I told Malik to slow down," Coleman said. "Early in with the press they were running at him and making him speed up, and he was turning it over. I told him to slow down, let them come, and then find the open guys. In the second half, they adjusted, they stopped approaching and they laid back. So at that point, we had to try to pick them apart.”
Pick them apart they certainly did, Brighton finished with four different scorers in double figures, Mojica, Nick Simpson, James, and Daivon Edwards. Senior forward Nickerson Succes also came up big for the Bengals, coming off the bench with Mojica, Succes scored six points and at times anchored Brighton defensively and on the glass.
“Nick Simpson, Daivon Edwards, and Malik are our nucleus. We rely on them to show up and give what they’re supposed to give us, but then guys like Nick Succes and with Mark Mojica, we know what he’s capable of,” Coleman said.
“Tonight was a great example of those two guys stepping up when we needed it the most. We just want to build up our role players so that they can step up in situations like this.”
Foreshadowing of Round 3? New Mission outrebounded Brighton 34-21, but their defensive lapses down the stretch ultimately cost them the game. New Mission head coach Cory McCarthy was adamant to his team after the game about learning from the loss and moving on. After all, New Mission could potentially see Brighton again, either at the Boston City League championships or in the Division 2 North tournament -- or both.
“I’m not ashamed of my kids at all," McCarthy said. "I told my kids that if they’re going to go home and read social media, then yeah, feel that [pain], but the season’s not over. We’ll be there in the end. We’re not going anywhere, I still believe we’re the best team in the state.
“We lost, so what, we still have the best kids. Those guys (Brighton) are good, they’re good for a reason. They’ll be there in the end, and so will we. It’s going to be tough to beat a team three times, believe me.”
McCarthy was making a reference to the fact that with the win, Brighton got their second consecutive regular season sweep over the Titans. New Mission hasn’t beaten Brighton since the 2011 Division 2 North Final, a 55-53 Titans win. Mission went on to capture their second consecutive state title following that win.
“[Tonight] was a total mental breakdown, a mental collapse," McCarthy said. "We didn’t execute the way we did in the first half. We may have run out of energy, we were a little bit too amped like we were for the first game. There’s still a lot of youth out there, and we don’t have one guy that can take over a game and carry us to where we want them to carry us.
“I don’t care what happened tonight. We could have lost by 80, but we’re still the model program in the city. They get up to play us, they always play well against us. Some teams are just a bad matchup…they’re a matchup problem for us.”