'One for the city': Townies shock No. 1 SJP

CHARLESTOWN, Mass. -– Charlestown happens in the fourth quarter.

Coach Edson Cardoso and the Townies dominated the final quarter today, doubling up on St. John’s Prep 24-12 en route to a 72-56 victory, the first loss for the Eagles this season. Pat Connaughton (29 points) scored all of St. John’s field goals in the fourth, sinking three 3-pointers, the last at 4:11, and Steve Haladayna hit three out of five free throws for the remainder of the Prep offense down the stretch. The Townies ended the game on a 15-1 run.

“People say that we’re a great offensive team, but I say we’re a great defensive team and we’re starting to prove that game in and game out,” said Cardoso, whose team is allowing just 52.5 points per game.

The player whom he equates most with defense was the team’s leading scorer on the day, Akosa Maduegbunam (25 points).

“I asked him what he worked on this summer and he said ‘Coach, I worked on my defense.’ You don’t hear that from basketball players; it’s always shooting and dribbling.”

So when asked about his 25 points, including four 3-pointers, and three assists, Maduegbunam wanted to talk about his three steals.

“We played defense, that was our mindset,” said Maduegbunam. “To stop them and put the ball in the basket.”

Charlestown (12-1) met Prep during the preseason, but Maduegbunam thinks that there is a big difference between now and then.

“We scrimmaged them earlier in the year and they were more disciplined than us,” he admitted. “Everyone bought into the program, played their roles and we became a team. We are all meshing right now.”

St. John’s Prep (11-1) is known for running teams ragged, turning up the defensive pressure in the fourth to create offense, but the Townies play the same type of game. How do they prepare for this?

“Run,” said 6-2 junior Rony Fernandes who scored 20 points today, nine in the fourth quarter. “Run, run, all the time, run, sprints all the time. All we do in practice is run.”

They practice shooting, too. This is where Cardoso imparts upon his players the importance of attitude in game situations, especially when you are the underdog at home against the No. 1 team in the state.

“[Coach Cardoso] always tells me to stay strong and attack every time down the court,” said Fernandes. “It was a big game so I knew I had to step it up. When I saw a shot, I took it with confidence, because if you shoot with no confidence, it’s not going to go in.”

One young man who has confidence coming out of his back pocket is junior Tyrik Jackson, who at 6-foot-5 dominated the boards with 16 rebounds and seven blocked shots. He says it’s easy to play his role because it is well-defined.

“I get the rebounds and I block the shots,” said Jackson (6 points) coolly with his hood half on, ready to bear the frigid wind coming off of Boston Harbor. “That’s my role on the team… my teammates can score a lot.”

“He was being more physical than our guys,” said Prep coach Sean Connolly. “We were trying to box him out but he was just fighting around us. He had a very good game. He changed a lot of shots, so he was tough; he was a game changer for them.”

Connaughton was able to sink a three to tie the game at 52 with just fewer than six minutes left, but Maduegbunam came back down the court to drain a three, and the Townies never looked back.

“Akosa is such a competitor,” said Cardoso.

And he proved it at the end of the game.

Maduegbunam was trying to dribble but Prep players converged on him in the closing seconds, so he showed some of his crafty handle, dropped him shoulders low and laid the ball off the glass and into the hoop with time expiring.

“This is one for the city,” added Maduegbunam. “But we’re not done.”