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IAABO 130: Lynn English 75, No. 2 St. John's Prep 73

LAWRENCE, Mass. -- Lynn English coach Mike Carr admits he thought his young Bulldogs were a year away from beating a team like St. John’s Prep. But after watching his team dance in celebration following an emotional 75-73 victory for the IAABO Board 130 Classic championship, it appears Lynn English’s time is now.

Junior guard Fred Hogan (16 points) hit the biggest shot of his career to beat the fourth quarter buzzer—a fall-away runner from 10 feet away through contact. The ball rolled through over the back of the rim and through the hoop, and Hogan’s teammates swarmed him in celebration —- leaving Prep’s players, who just the night before were on top of the world after beating rival Central Catholic on their home floor, stunned.

“I was thinking, ‘I have to hit this. The game is on the line, I need to hit this shot’,” said, Hogan, who also hit two deep three-pointers in the last four minutes of the game to help build some momentum.

Stevie Collins had a career night for the Bulldogs (14-6), the sophomore guard finished with 27 points. He said he had no doubt that Hogan’s last second attempt was good.

“Oh it was in, I started running around before it even went in, cause I knew it was in,” Collins said.

Coming off an unexpected win over Western Mass. power Springfield Central on Sunday night, Collins put Lynn English’s offensive attack on his back in the first half. With St. John’s Prep (18-2) closing out on their shooters and keeping the Bulldogs off the offensive glass, it was on the sophomore to make sure his team stayed within striking distance in the first half.

He did one better. Finishing the first half on an 18-7 run, behind 17 first half points from Collins, English led 37-36 at halftime.

“We came out kind of sluggish, I thought that I had to come out and take the control the game and take my team to a higher level,” he said.

Dooley, Judson go off: Prep senior point guard Tyler Dooley (23 points, 11-of-11 free throws) was the most dominant player on the floor on Monday night. He was a one-man press-break, a reliable scorer, and a flashy passer who finished with eight assists. When the three-pointers weren’t falling for Prep in the third quarter, Dooley took over.

Prep started the second half on an 8-0 run, going up 44-37. Dooley had a hand in all four baskets, scoring the first on a mid-range jumper, and assisting on the final three for two baskets by Max Butterbrodt and one by Josh Syska.

“He’s outstanding, he really is. He’s a senior leader for Sean [Connolly], he’s just gutsy,” Carr said. “As tough as we play defensively, he shredded us. He was able to put his head down and get by us. The way we play, it wears different kids down, and he didn’t wear down at all. I think he’s an outstanding player.”

Six-foot-4 sophomore Ben Judson also had a standout game for the Prep. With 21 points on five three-pointers-- including one three coming off a beautiful stepback move late in the fourth quarter to bring Prep within a point --he picked up the slack when English’s defense keyed on senior captain Drex Costello, who was held scoreless.

Unsung hero: The scorers always get attention, but English’s upset wouldn’t have been possible without the play of forward Danny Lukanda, who anchored the Bulldogs defensively and on the glass with 16 rebounds. A strong 6-foot-2 junior with great timing and a distinct hard-nosed edge to his game, he only needed to score five points to make a giant impact on the game.

“Danny was coming off the bench in the beginning of the season. He’s stepped up, made a couple of moves, and since then he’s just stabilized us on the boards," Carr said. "Danny’s not a super big kid, but he’s got crazy ups, and he gets up quick. He has that second bounce.

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Hogan expressed a similar opinion, acknowledging that his late-game heroics wouldn’t have been possible without Lukanda’s willingness to do the ‘dirty work’.

“Danny was all over the boards, he was just outstanding,” he said.

Moving ahead of schedule: With such a young lineup, Lynn English has taken their share of lumps this year. However, any tag regarding them as a “darkhorse” in the heavily anticipated Division 1 North tournament should probably be removed. After beating Springfield Central, the best team in Western Mass., and St. John’s Prep -- who was the presumed No. 1 team in the state after they beat Central Catholic on Sunday, the Bulldogs have jumped into the spotlight just in time for the tournament.

“We’re a little bit ahead by getting a win like this, but I’m thrilled with where the team is right now,” Carr said, “Going into the season we thought we’d be good, and as the season goes on hopefully make a little bit of noise, get into the tournament and maybe win a game or two. Now, these kids feel they can win the whole thing.”

English has won 11 of their last 12 games, but the winning certainly won’t stop at the end of this season. With Hogan, Collins, sophomore Erick Rosario (13 points), Lukanda, and freakishly-athletic 6-foot-6 sophomore Johnny Hilaire all returning, the next two years figure to be full of high expectations for the Bulldogs.

“This proves that we’re where we want to be. Every game there has been some kind of improvement for us...It’s a testament to what the team is and can be,” Carr continued.

The future may be bright, but the young Bulldogs are now thoroughly convinced that they can make a run in the Division 1 North tournament.

“I feel as if we can go all the way [this year],” Collins said. “But being young is great because we have the whole team coming back. It’s preparing us for the upcoming seasons when we’re going to go far in the playoffs.”

Hogan added, on being vastly underrated coming into the IAABO 130 Classic: “This means a lot because nobody expected this to even happen. Nobody expected us to beat Springfield Central in the first game, they expected us to get blown out. This means a lot to us.”