MALDEN, Mass. -– Coming into Friday night’s road showdown with Greater Boston League rival Malden (9-8), Everett (14-2) coach John DiBiaso knew that this game was one that needed to be approached like a playoff game.
“You’re going on the road and going in these gyms during the tournament that you may not know," DiBiaso said. "Their rims may be off, the lighting could be bad...The game is one with lay-ups and free throws, that’s what I’ve told them. That’s how you win big games."
Shooting 41 percent from the floor while holding Malden to just 28 percent shooting, the Crimson Tide played DiBiaso’s efficient gameplan to near perfection, running away from the Golden Tornadoes late to pick up a 57-44 victory.
Junior forward Gary Clark led Everett in scoring with 13 points, while Rodwell Blanc (9 points) and Timmance McKinney (7 points) each chipped in five rebounds. Point guard Ernie Chatman and senior guard Lubern Figaro each scored eight points.
Whether it was his hard-nosed defense, trash-talking, or hand-clapping, Figaro had a constant fingerprint on the game –- bringing the extra intensity needed for the Crimson Tide to pick up a tough road victory and the Greater Boston League championship.
“There’s nothing bigger than playing Malden, that’s the biggest game we have. That’s the game that we all look forward to,” Figaro said.
A Wisconsin-bound star defensive back on the gridiron, Figaro teamed up with Blanc to help shut down Malden on the perimeter –- Bryan Mitchell-Rodriguez (6 points, 11 rebounds) and Anthony Gilardi (16 points, 8 rebounds) in particular.
“I thought we played very well, really above and beyond, defensively. When we play like that we’re a tough team. We’re not that big physically, we went to the boards and rebounded on the defensive glass like we were supposed to, and our defense was fantastic,” DiBiaso said. “And that’s a good team, those two kids -- Mitchell and Girardi, are very good players. They’re a good team, I’m just happy we won.”
Gilardi was the major reason why the Golden Tornadoes were able to pull the upset on Everett two weeks ago -– totaling 31 points and 14 rebounds in the victory on Jan. 31. Tonight the Crimson Tide made a concerted effort to shutdown Gilardi and not let him get open looks.
“We were playing great defense, especially Rodwell [Blanc], he was playing great [defense] on Gilardi…this game felt like a playoff game,” Figaro said.
‘A playoff environment’: Though the Crimson Tide initially struggled a little bit with Malden’s 2-3 zone, in particular the second and third quarters, they got back to their old ways to put the game away in the fourth quarter. Using their depth and athleticism to their advantage, Everett was able to build a lengthy lead thanks in part to hard-nosed defense and flawless fast break offense.
“We just emphasized getting the ball inside, of going to the basket. In the fourth quarter I thought McKinney did a great job going to the basket and setting people up. We played very unselfish tonight, and when we play like that we’re a tough team,” DiBiaso said.
Even despite getting outrebounded 38-27, the Crimson Tide were able to get it together offensively late in the fourth quarter. Clark (who scored 10 points in the second half) and McKinney scored several baskets inside to put the game away down the stretch.
“We talked about pushing the ball, going for the basket, and not settling for threes. You don’t want to live and die by three-pointers. We felt like our depth was better than theirs...so if we could gas them by running the ball and pushing it up that it would help us,” DiBiaso said. “We’ve got some guys that can shoot it, but you don’t want to settle.”