SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Coach Cory McCarthy is not happy.
“We were 15-25 from the free throw line,” the New Mission boys’ basketball coach repeated three times after the game. Despite the No. 8 Titans defeating Sabis Charter School (Springfield) 61-38 at the Hoophall Classic, McCarthy was upset about the free throws as well as missed layups.
“I am completely confused as to why we would miss so many layups. We missed 24 layups,” McCarthy said.
How many times did he repeat ‘24’? Think of Allen Iverson’s infamous ‘practice’ press conference from 2002.
“Not just put backs, easy layups. 24. We missed 24 layups!”
Sabis (5-6) coach Jim Mack saw an upside to the Titans' inability to make good on their offensive rebounds.
“We got lucky with that,” said Mack. “If they scored underneath, it would have been worse than it actually was.”
And the game was not a total wash for McCarthy, either.
“The best thing about tonight’s game is that we held a good basketball team to ten field goals for an entire game,” said McCarthy of Sabis, which put up 45 field goal attempts. “That’s a good accomplishment.”
New Mission (6-3) junior Leroy Hamilton led the charge, keeping the Bulldogs from getting to the hoop, with four steals.
“He’s going to be my leader next year,” added McCarthy of Hamilton, who scored seven points, but according to McCarthy had a tough game, as he's usually in double digits. “But he made up for it on defense.”
Offensively, New Mission was led by the game’s MVP, senior Kachi Nzerem (23 points, 9 rebounds).
“It’s more of a team win,” Nzerem said. “Most of my points came from my teammates…passes from Darius [Davis], Charles [Gunter] and Samir [McDaniels].”
New Mission executed their half-court press and stifled Sabis, but Mack could not to get his Bulldogs biting the way he had hoped.
“I think our biggest issue is we play in spurts,” said Mack. “Not being able to sustain any type of energy is starting to really hurt us...We tried to trap early, but it’s hard to develop any kind of press when you turn the ball over as many times as we did.”
The leading rebounder for New Mission was Darius Davis (10), who also added nine points.
“Coach tells me that I have the length, so just outwork guys, not letting any team out-rebound us,” said Davis, whose Titans beat the Bulldogs off the glass, 46-30.
This philosophy is shared by McCarthy, who despite watching his team struggle to make the easy baskets, was not worried because their rebounding and pressure defense was ever-present.
“Once we’re aggressive, there aren’t too many teams that can play with us because of our size,” McCarthy noted. “When we’re rotating and moving well, I know [our offense] is going to come. We may not be scoring a lot of points, but we’re turning teams over. Our whole game plan is to wear teams out with our half-court press and then go with our man to man strong for the second half.”
“The average height for our starters is 6-4,” added McCarthy. “For those guys to be able to dribble the ball and play like guards is very helpful. For whatever it’s worth, New Mission is not a flashy basketball team. We’re about second chance points and managing the game.”
Late in the fourth quarter, New Mission senior Charles Gunter missed a free throw, making him 4 of 8 for the game.
“I was going to yell at him for missing another free throw,” said McCarthy. “He never misses free throws! That was four in a row.
“But before I could even get it out of my mouth, he knew it was coming. He read the ball off the rim, which is something that we practice, and he put it back in. I was happy about that.”