(Video by Joe Parello)
WOBURN, Mass. -- Andover’s Dave Giribaldi stepped to the free throw line with a mere seconds to go in the Division 1 North semifinal.
The normally proficient free throw shooter had a chance to put his team up by two points, maybe three if he could convert both ends of a one-and-one. He missed. Everett had one final opportunity to win the game.
Timmance McKinney drove the lane and threw up a shot. He too missed. Andover’s Connor Merinder came down with the rebound and immediately heaved an outlet pass to Giribaldi at half court, to preserve Andover’s 49-48 victory.
“When you play Andover basketball, it’s very easy no matter what,” said Andover coach Dave Fazio. “We did a lot of great things. We kept them out of the paint for the most part. We got some run outs for the most part. We were sloppy with our offense, but when you’re fighting to get to the North finals, you’re going to make mistakes and make plays.”
The Golden Warriors went into the fourth quarter up 40-32. It would have been a 10-point lead if McKinney (15 points) had not hit a runner at the buzzer.
Everett made a run in the fourth quarter when McKinney was fouled converting a transition layup into points. He hit the ensuing free throw to make it a four-point game. On the next Everett possession, senior Lubern Figaro (10 points, 5 rebounds), a Wisconsin football commit, was open in the lane for an easy two to make it 40-38 with 4 minutes remaining.
Giribaldi (12 points) came back with a spot-up jumper from the free throw line to stem the tide.
The two teams traded baskets for the next minute until Andover’s freshman guard E.J. Perry (13 points) banged home a three from the right wing directly in front of the Andover student section. That made it a five-point game with two minutes remaining.
The hallmark of Everett all season has been its defensive pressure and how it can wear down teams over the course of a game. That showed up in a big way in the final minutes of Tuesdays game.
Down five, Rodwell Blanc (7 points) picked Giribaldi’s pocket and passed ahead to Gary Clark (9 points, 13 rebounds) for an easy two to cut the lead to three. Clark blocked Merinder the next trip down the floor which lead to a Ridley Renois (4 points, 6 rebounds) at the other end to make it 47-46.
With under a minute remaining, Andover finally broke a two-minute scoring drought with a Merinder basket. Lubern Figaro answered for Everett, which lead to the game-ending sequence that secured the Andover victory.
Second helping: Tuesday marked the second time this season Everett and Andover met. In the first game, at last month's IAABO Board 130 Tournament, Andover won 74-54. With much more at stake this time around, Andover knew it would be a battle.
“We definitely knew they were going to be out for blood this game after last time,” said Giribaldi. “We’ve played physical teams before so we knew what was coming.”
Andover has only one stereotypical big man in Merinder. The 6-foot-5 junior had to do his best to stay out of foul trouble as McKinney, Clark, and Figaro continuously attacked the basket hoping to draw contact. Then he had to out jump defenders for rebounds on both ends of the floor.
Merinder finished the game with 16 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 blocks.
“We have one center,” said Fazio. “Every time we start the game and he gets a foul on the first possession, I look at the referees and say I only have one of these guys, I don’t have five. Sure enough, he stays in there and he fights his way and makes good decisions. It’s hard not to leave your feet all the time.”
Familiar foe: With the win, Andover moves on to play Merrimack Valley Conference rival Central Catholic in the Division 1 North Final Saturday at the Tsongas Center. It will be the fourth time this season the two teams have played each other. The Golden Warriors hold a 2-1 series lead so far, but know it will be no walk in the park. It never is when those two teams meet.
“I don’t know man, Tyler Nelson’s gonna drive me to the grave,” said Fazio. “Hey, good for the Merrimack Valley. Congratulations to them. Ricky (Nault) got the best of us for a long time with Carson Desrosiers and all those guys. We’re on a nice little run. We’re going to go and try to win that game, but we’ve got the utmost respect for Ricky, Tyler Nelson, Nick Cambio, and their program. They’re a bunch of tough kids.”
The last time the two teams met, Andover beat Central 76-65 in the final game of the regular season. Central defeated St. John’s Prep 81-74 in overtime for the right to move on to the North final.
So far this season, Andover has won two of three meetings, having also notched a defeat of the Raiders in the Commonwealth Motors Classic back in December at Merrimack College.
“I can’t wait to play them,” said Merinder. “After we beat them (Dec. 28) in the Commonwealth Classic (72-68) we all took a picture and put four fingers up saying we’re going to beat them four times this year and we’re going to compete with them every single time, every single game. That’s what we plan on doing on Saturday.”