BOSTON -- It's been a down year for the Boston City League, but one that New Mission has thoroughly dominated. In league games this season, the No. 2 Titans have beaten opponents by an average of 30.7 points, including a 30-point drubbing of Charlestown in their first meeting back in December.
The second meeting -- complete with a 25-minute array of halftime festivities, and a hostile home crowd -- didn't go as planned. The Titans escaped Charlestown, 67-65, on a night it was honoring former Townie and UConn guard Shabazz Napier with the retirement of his jersey. And for Mission head coach Cory McCarthy, this was exactly the kind of win they needed.
"It was good, and in this environment," McCarthy said. "I think there's, like, Satan or somebody hanging on top of that rim, and he might be 10 feet tall, because we shoot the ball well and we just could not for the life of us hit anything from the perimeter."
In this gym, with its unique lighting and less-than-forgiving rims, the Titans (12-2) had to rely on their interior game, led by seniors Asante Sandiford (21 points, 10 rebounds) and Fred "Bam" Rivers (11 points, seven rebounds).
Sandiford gave the Townies (9-7) fits early, drawing foul after foul underneath as players either leaped at his pump fakes or found themselves in awkward positions trying to handle his pivots. Sandiford went 6-for-8 from the line in the first quarter -- including three trips to the free throw line in the first 80 seconds of the game -- then dominated the paint in the second, going 5-for-6 from the floor.
Rivers, meanwhile, had to come up big late after finding the bench early, picking up his second foul just four minutes into the contest.
Clinging to a 62-60 lead following a free throw from Charlestown's Taris Wilson (18 points), Mission's Randy Glenn dribbled to the right wing and called for a Rivers pick to his left. The runway clear, Glenn blew by his defender and picked up a foul on the way up, sinking one of two for a three-point lead.
Charles Washington rimmed a pull-up attempt from the elbow on the ensuing Charlestown possession, and Rivers was there underneath to scoop the rebound and pick up another foul, hitting both free throws for the 65-60 lead.
After a Charlestown basket the other way, Rivers was sent flying to the floor after receiving the inbounds pass, and with his two made free throws and just 16.6 seconds left the game looked in hand at 67-62.
Not to be outdone, Oliver Benner (18 points) heaved up a deep three-pointer from the top of the key, then dragged Tyrique Lee into the Townies bench for the foul (after brief scuffling, players from both teams had to be separated, but no technical fouls were assessed). With 1.6 seconds left Lee missed both free throws, but Rivers corralled the board on the second shot to seal the victory.
"It was definitely a test," Sandiford said. "It shows we have to stay together at all times and keep our team chemistry up. Down the road we had a couple breakdowns, missed a couple of free throws, we were losing our head because of the crowd. It's very intense in here. But we learned that we have to finish at all times."