BOSTON -– New Mission left little doubt on Wednesday night of who the better team was.
Behind 21 points from sophomore star Juwan Gooding, the Titans (14-5) will, with the 53-37 win, move on to the title game of the Boston City League Championship on Thursday afternoon against Brighton.
Coming into the game, it was unclear whether or not New Mission would be able to slow down Dorchester’s 6-foot-7 forward Dakari Wornum (13 points, 10 rebounds)—who has made a living this season off of dominating opposing teams on the offensive glass. With Fred Rivers out for the rest of the season and shotblocker Isshiah Coleman still another week and a half away from coming back, there was doubt as to whether or not the Titans still had enough size to remain a legitimate favorite in Division 2 North.
Consider those doubts subsided.
Chima Ebele and Sam Freeman each pulled down 11 rebounds for the Titans, who outrebounded Dorchester (14-8) 40-20 overall. In addition, seniors Shaquan Murray and Nate Anderson pulled down six and seven rebounds, respectively.
“We don’t have a lot of depth at big man, but it just makes me appreciate how much depth I had there before," Mission coach Cory McCarthy said. "I lost 6-4 and 6-4, but I still have 6-5, 6-5, and 6-6, so that helps. I’m sure we won the rebounding battle today. I’m happy with what we did.”
Without as much of an inside scoring presence, Gooding took it upon himself in the first half to pick the Titans up offensively. He knocked down two long threes through the first two quarters, but moreso made his presence felt off the dribble—using his quick first step to get to the rim with what he made look to be relative ease. Gooding outscored Dorchester’s entire team in the first half, 15-14.
“I just had to stay focused, look for my teammate, and look for my shot,” Gooding said. “I have to attack more now that we lost Fred and [Isshiah], so I just have to be more aggressive.”
The progression in Gooding’s scoring is clearly noticeable when comparing his game to earlier in the season. Though his scoring stats are similar to the ones he was putting up during the first half of the season, Gooding has not only become better at running the point, but also at taking better shots and scoring more efficiently—a major factor that hurt Dorchester.
“Juwan’s development boils down to two words—leadership and patience. Whenever he has patience and lets the game develop, he does well,” McCarthy said, “He took a couple bad shots early, I told him to stick with it. It drives me crazy, but the kid is talented, and you have to let talent do its thing. Talent isn’t perfect, but he’ll do his thing. One thing with talent is it will show up if you’re patient.”
Another contributing factor to New Mission’s victory was Dorchester’s inability to capitalize on opportunities at the free throw line. Despite getting good looks around the rim all game and doing a nice job of drawing fouls, the Bears, who trailed 35-14 at halftime, shot just 7-for-21 from the free throw line.
“It could have been a closer game if they made their free throws," McCarthy said. "Because they didn’t make their free throws and there was such a gap with the lead, I was able to be more aggressive. Once we get in a situation where we can be more aggressive, we’re as good as anybody.”
Confidence remains: Even despite losing Coleman and Rivers, McCarthy remains extremely confident that his team still has the talent to knock off Brighton on Thursday afternoon and make a run in the D2 North tournament—where they will have to contend with the likes of Melrose, Brighton, Wakefield, and North Andover.
“I’m confident, I’m not knocking Isshiah, but with Chima, once guys know they’re going to be on the court -- and I’m not gonna pull them for something silly, because I’m done teaching lessons this year -- I’m gonna’ keep you on the court and play through your mistakes," McCarthy said. "We had a bad practice yesterday, I harped on the guys, and they really responded. That’s what we want to do.”
Added motivation: McCarthy has always embraced the underdog role, and now that the injuries to Coleman and Rivers are beginning to stir up doubt about his team, the Titans are more motivated than ever to play the style of basketball McCarthy loves: hard-nosed, defensive-oriented, and by his own admission, “ugly” basketball.
“I felt good about the way we played defense, and I told some people that we’re missing guys, but now we have the chip on our shoulder. We look like New Mission,” he said of the bulletin board material that his team now has.
“We ain’t supposed to be here, but we’re here. That’s New Mission as a whole, we’re in everybody’s way -- and that’s how I like it, I like to be in everybody’s way.”
Round three: Following the Brighton/New Mission rivalry this year has been something similar to a soap opera. Because of significantly negative behavior from fans during the Dec. 20 meeting between the two teams, fans were not allowed in the next time the two teams met, on Jan. 31. The public missed an instant-classic—after New Mission had the game in hand the whole way, including a 20 point fourth quarter lead, Brighton stormed all the way back to stun the Titans on their home floor.
Gooding went stone-faced when asked about the third meeting.
“We have to play tough...and don’t give up the lead,” he said.
McCarthy added: “It’s good to get a city tournament win because I usually don’t get those,” he said with a laugh. “We’ll move on from here and then we play a really good team tomorrow. Everybody knows how I feel about Brighton and how I feel about Hugh [Coleman]. Hugh’s a good guy, and I think we’ll compete tomorrow.”