EVERETT, Mass. -- Despite averaging 87 points and defeating its opponents by over 30 in each of its last two games, Cambridge entered halftime in a relatively unfamiliar situation; losing by two and totaling 16 points in the first two periods.
“It showed mentally what we didn’t have in the first quarter,” Falcons guard Kyroe Qualls-Betts said. “[We] weren’t mentally prepared.”
The second half proved far more habitual for the Falcons, whose stifling defense -- eight steals, six blocks -- limited Everett to 12 points in the third and fourth frames, while dropping 20 fourth-quarter points en route to a 48-31 victory that keeps them undefeated on the season at 10-0.
“Overall, it was a great defensive effort in the second half,” said Cambridge head coach Lance Dottin, whose team forced 17 turnovers in the contest. “And it changed the game. It changed the entire complexion of the game for us.”
What became clear in the second half was the Falcons’ renewed toughness on the defensive end, particular on the interior. Sophomore phenom Jacquil Taylor (seven points, nine rebounds, three blocks, three steals) continually affected basket attempts around the cylinder.
“Defensively, it makes a huge difference when you’ve got Jacquil [Taylor] on the back side,” Dottin said. “Because even if you get beat, you’ve got someone behind you that can change some shots, that can block some shots. He’s a special player, very special.”
Alongside Taylor, fellow big men Maurice Taylor (six points, four rebounds) and Marcus Faison (four points, five rebounds) also disabled easy penetration for the Crimson Tide (7-4), who shot 36 percent from the field.
After a relatively back-and-forth first half, Cambridge outscored Everett, 12-3, in the third quarter, despite committing nine fouls. However, Everett squandered on chances to cut the deficit, clanking all three front ends of one-and-one opportunities from the line in the quarter,
Early in the final stanza, the Falcons swelled the lead to 30-21, before the Crimson Tide orchestrated a quick 4-0 run, culminating in a steal and explosive one-handed, fast break dunk by Alain Jeanty (12 points, seven rebounds), his second “steal-to-slam” of the contest.
Alas, that would be the closest the home squad would come.
In rebuttal, the Falcons countered with a 13-2 run of its own, highlighted by a smooth trey-ball from the senior swingman Qualls-Betts (nine points, seven rebounds, two assists) with 4:30 to play.
“We did move the ball a lot better in the second half,” Dottin said. “We tried to get Kyroe more involved on the perimeter.”
Finding a way to navigate through and around Everett’s hybrid 2-3 zone—often times double-teaming and overcompensating on the low-block—became easier with Jacquil Taylor as a target at the high post, Qualls-Betts said.
“The middle was open all night,” he said, “And there was one wing man popping out on the shooter, so we had to attack the middle and kick it from there to the other side. They [were] double-teaming Jacquil [Taylor] … so it just gave spacing for us on the floor to get more shots.”
On the night, Cambridge’ shot 42 percent from the floor. However, forward Deondre Starling (12 points, six rebounds, two steals) served as somewhat of an anomaly, making all six of his field goal attempts, including five in the second half.
Likewise, Everett had its bright points. To go along with Jeanty’s team-high in scoring, point guard Kenny Calaj collected 11 points and a couple dimes, while being a pesky on-ball defender, registering three steals. Senior Erno Deshommes was also impactful on the glass, swiping a game-high 11 rebounds.
And as the old adage goes, it may not be pretty, but a win is a win, which was exactly Cambridge’s mindset leaving the gym, Dottin said.
“We needed the win,” he said. [We got] off to a bad start, but as long as we’re able to get the victory. It’s a [Greater Boston League] victory, so that’s important for us.”