SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Springfield Central relied on the towering presence of Chris Baldwin and Kamari Robinson to notch the team’s 10th straight win, defeating city rival, Cathedral 76-59 at the MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield on Tuesday night.
Robinson added another double-double to the books with a game-high 27 points and 11 rebounds. Baldwin, the 6-foot-8 sophomore, flirted with a triple-double -– 25 points, 18 rebounds and eight blocks.
Central (12-2) started off with great outside shooting, but focused the ball in the middle more in the second quarter to take a 36-23 lead heading into halftime over Cathedral (10-4).
The Golden Eagles held a 13-point lead before junior guard Ju’uan Williams went to the bench with his fourth foul midway through the third.
The Panthers responded with a 7-2 run, cutting the lead to single digits. The third quarter surge was led by senior Cullen Burke, who scored five straight points before finding Neil Begley for an easy two.
From that point on, Baldwin and Robinson scored the next 16 Central buckets, pushing the lead back up to double-digits.
“We tried to be more aggressive on the offensive boards and just tried to go down low as much as possible,” said Baldwin.
The two forwards scored the majority of their points around the rim or from the free throw line, using their size to finish at the bucket or get second-chance opportunities from offensive rebounds.
“We feed off each other,” said Robinson. “When we get going the team gets going.”
Robinson scored his 26 points in the final three quarters after being held scoreless in the first. The guard play gave Central an early lead, thanks in large part to Williams’ three 3-pointers in the first quarter.
Central held a 19-13 lead heading into the second quarter. Robinson’s baseline jumper (his first points), Baldwin’s layup, and a Robinson putback gave Central a 6-2 run to start the quarter.
“Frankly I’m happy we played them here,” said Central head coach Mike Labrie. “This place kind of neutralizes their (Cathedral’s) shooting. They can shoot the hell out of the ball.”
Williams had 11 of his 13 points in the first quarter while Cornelius Tyson dished out seven assists. Darrick Boyd led Cathedral with 19 points with a pair of assists. Burke chipped in 15 while Lou Garcia, the team’s second-leading scorer, was sidelined with foul trouble.
Central at full strength: It was clear that this team was going to take a few shots early on. That this team shouldn’t be written off in December because they’ll be there come March. That’s how it’s starting to shape up for Mike Labrie’s team.
“This is the first time we were at full strength tonight,” said Labrie. “We were a little rusty.”
Tyson was the hero from last season’s state championship game, is now back on the floor, rejoining the team on Feb. 1. The 6-foot-1 senior could be the season hero this year, adding a lift to the backcourt.
“It feels good to be back with the team,” said Tyson. “(It was tough) at first. I think we’re playing pretty well.”
“It’s great,” added Baldwin. “He’s finding us. He’s another scoring option for us.”
With Tyson on the floor, it takes most of the ball handling duties off of Ju’an Williams, who played very well in his time running the offense. Williams helps stretch the floor as he did on Tuesday with a trio of 3-pointers in the first quarter.
Despite the double-figure win, Central rarely had its starting five on the floor due to both Tyson and Williams dealing with foul trouble.
Old Central, new Central: Numerous times in 2011-2012, Central changed the game with second half runs propelled by pressure defense from three talented defensive guards. As Tyrell Springer graduated this past June, the team has transformed from a perimeter-oriented team to one that plays through the post.
“This is a totally different team,” said Labrie. “That’s what we’re trying to focus on– pound it inside offensively, crash the offensive boards, get quality stops on defense and limit them to one shot.”
Labrie had traded in the pressure defense and fast break points for second chance opportunities and offensive rebounds, coming from his 6-foot-8 sophomore and his 6-foot-5 senior captain.
Central will need the ability to control the boards, especially with city foe Putnam Vocational Technical Academy showing how tough they are inside with their own two-headed monster – Kayjuan Bynum and David Murrell.
However, with Tyson back in the lineup, shades of last year’s team could reemerge for the Golden Eagles.
We don’t have the pressing team we had last year,” said Labrie. “With Corny, we may be able to do a little bit more than that.”