BRIGHTON, Mass. -- The New Mission boys basketball team nearly blew an 18-point lead. It scrapped, it rebounded. It survived 19 turnovers. The Titans spent as much time on the floor as their feet at times.
“Ugly basketball,” coach Cory McCarthy said.
Not just that.
“This is New Mission basketball,” he said.
Relying on its length, experience and a bunch of a heady seniors, New Mission held off a youthful Brighton squad in its bandbox of a gymnasium, 70-59, on Wednesday, playing the type of basketball that carried it to a Division 4 state title a year ago.
Samir McDaniels finished with 19 points and nine rebounds, joined in double figures by classmates Kachi Nzerem (24 points) and Darius Davis (13, eight rebounds). The trio fueled the Titans (8-3) return to an aggressive halfcourt trap, and after Brighton trimmed a near 20-point first-half lead to three early in the fourth quarter, they showed the poise McCarthy loves them for.
Even if it came without style points.
“The uglier the better, the messier the better, the dirtier the better,” McCarthy said. “That’s what we preach. We’re on the ground, ripping our jerseys in practice. We can’t play that cute basketball.”
But they can play good basketball, especially with a healthy McDaniels. The 6-foot-4 guard/forward has been dogged by injuries for the better part of a month, limiting what McCarthy could do defensively. But with the senior finally healthy, the Titans -- ranked No. 9 in ESPN Boston’s MIAA boys basketball poll -- went back to the pressure defense it relied on last season with great results.
New Mission held No. 7 Brighton (7-1) to five first-quarter points, forced 13 turnovers and continually frustrated the Bengals with its exceptional length. With McDaniels and Davis running a patient but assertive offense, it led, 40-22, late in the second quarter.
Asked what New Mission’s defense does so well, McDaniels spread his arms out on each side, displaying how much room just one defender can take up.
“They can’t do much,” he said of New Mission‘s opponents.
But Brighton responded with its own pressure defense in the third quarter, ditching its man-to-man coverage for a full-court zone press that emphasized trapping in the corners. It kick-started what had been a stagnant Bengals offense to that point and finally slowed New Mission, which turned the ball over 10 times in the third quarter alone. But it wasn’t until the fourth when Brighton ripped off a 10-0 run to cut it to 55-52 with 5:41 to play that it finally felt like a showdown of top-10 teams.
New Mission wasn’t worried.
“I told everybody they were going to make a run. I knew it was coming,” Davis said. “Senior leadership. We know what it takes. In late-game situations, we know what to do to execute.”
Davis and McDaniels tightened up -- New Mission committed just one fourth-quarter turnover -- and the Titans did their damage at the free throw line, hitting seven of their next nine foul shots to push their lead to six.
Meanwhile, all the plays Brighton was making behind Kevon Young (17 points) and Theo Oribhabor (13) stalled late, perhaps a result of the Bengals’ youth as much as New Mission’s defense. Two starters, Oribhabor and Malik James, and key reserve Davion Edwards are all sophomores.
“They [New Mission] made plays,” said Brighton coach Hugh Coleman, whose team hit just one field goal in the final 3:18. “They got a loose rebound, or they got an open lay-up, finished the lay-up. It felt like the foul situation was leaning more against us, which was tough. That stagnated our rebounding. I thought they rebounded pretty well against us.
“[But] we thought, in terms of the foul calls, we were riding guys, but we thought they were riding, too. And a couple times we went to the basket, no call, we had a turnover. So I think that kind of … eh, just making plays.”
But that’s what McCarthy has come to expect of his team, which moved up to Division 2 North this season to become Brighton’s main competition. Explosive when they need to but calm in stressful situations, the Titans’ growth into a state contender is one born as much from athleticism and talent as trust between players and coach.
“We’re just managing the game,” McCarthy said. “We’re going to try to manage our way to the states, manage our way through the city. I can’t do that as a coach unless I have smart guys. And I have smart guys. … You can’t put a value on that.”
ODDS AND ENDS
-- McDaniels’ injuries have ranged from a sprained ankle to a sore tailbone suffered in a fall in the Chelsea tournament, among other nagging ailments. It’s limited his quickness at times, and made days like Wednesday -- when he played as much underneath as he did in the backcourt -- tougher than usual.
“That’s why I looked so bad,” he said, referring specifically to losses to St. John’s Prep and Mansfield. “It’s too bad we can’t get those games back, though.”
The Titans are simply happy to have him back at full strength now.
“His rebounding and his explosiveness” are the biggest differences, Davis said. “He’s better inside. It helps us. … That takes the pressure off me, him being healthy.”
-- Sophomore Nathaniel Anderson didn’t score for New Mission, but McCarthy went out of his way to highlight Anderson’s fourth-quarter block, which helped lead to a quick 6-2 spurt that gave the Titans some breathing room late. Anderson also grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.
-- Brighton enjoyed an undefeated start to its season thanks in large part to its man-to-man defense. Wednesday’s loss may help change Coleman’s thinking in applying its “diamond” zone press more often.
“The diamond press that we normally do, I guess we realize how more effective it was,“ he said. “It may have helped if we started a little earlier.”
Brighton relies more on speed, quick hands and forcing bad passes in its defense, a contrast from New Mission’s style.
“In person, it showed, I thought their length really did frustrate us, early on,” Coleman said. “We adjusted a little bit, got more comfortable, but I think we were down almost 20 in the first half. The length, that’s where they got their cushion, and for us, it was an uphill battle from that point.”