ROXBURY, Mass. -- The capacity crowd at the Tobin Community Center having dispersed minutes ago, Samir McDaniels slouched in the bleachers, head bowed, casually sipping a Poland Spring bottle as he took in some relaxed deep breaths after two hours of congestion. He needed a minute after this one.
Battling the flu all day, the New Mission senior guard was advised by head coach Cory McCarthy to sit out tonight's pivotal Boston City South rematch with No. 13 Brighton. Ten minutes before tip-off, though, McCarthy was told otherwise.
"Cory wasn't going to let me play, but I told him I was going to play regardless of whether he let me or not," McDaniels said. "No disrespect, but I've got to be there for my team."
Same for fellow senior guard Darius Davis, who was battling similar symptoms and had a temperature of 102 degrees at game time ("No excuses," he said). Both he and McDaniels went the full 32 minutes, and put in double-doubles as the No. 5 Titans fought off a late Brighton surge to win, 65-58, and sweep the season series with the Bengals -- a win made even more intriguing when considering they'll be missing the third wheel of the much-hyped backcourt, senior Kachi Nzerem (hip pointer), at least another two weeks.
"It's kinda scary," McCarthy said. "Because, you know, there would have been no excuses, but guys were dragging. You could tell, you can look in their faces right now, they're dragging. But, you know, they love the game, and they want to protect our house. They want to protect Mission Hill. They want to protect the neighborhood, the school, what we're about."
When these two teams battled last month in Brighton's gym, a New Mission win, McCarthy characterized the game as "ugly basketball" -- granted, a style the Titans often tell reporters that they embrace.
And while the second installment featured far less pressing and more organization in the half-court, it wasn't a symphony, either. Both teams shot less than 40 percent from the floor for the game, and coupled with a slew of unforced turnovers on both ends, things boiled down to physicality as the Titans threw six different zone looks to try and confuse the Bengals' young lineup.
"We started off way too sluggish, way too casual," Brighton head coach Hugh Coleman said. "We didn't attack until late, we didn't play aggressive until late. You can't do that against a good team like that. But again, we're young, with alot of room to grow, so to me that was more immaturity and youth than anything else."
New Mission (11-3) opened the game in a 2-3 zone, but didn't stay in it for long as the Bengals' first four field goals were all three-pointers, starting the game off 4 of 8 from deep. McCarthy was unsure how many minutes to expect out of McDaniels (22 points, 12 rebounds) and Davis (19, 11), but both were a force on the boards early, and started fast breaks with deflections on the perimeter. And while the Titans went with a deeper bench, they never left those two off the floor.
A buzzer-beating Davis three-pointer gave the Titans a 17-14 lead over Brighton (10-2) at the end of the first quarter. New Mission used 8-0 runs at the start of the second and third stanzas to take a comfortable 45-30 lead headed into the fourth.
The Titans went a stretch of roughly six minutes without a field goal over the final minutes of the third and start of the fourth, but found spark again when Leroy Hamilton (11 points) stepped up with a three to make it 51-34 with five minutes left. From therein, though, the Bengals made a furious rally behind guards Malik James (19 points) and Kevon Young (20), getting great looks on the perimeter and outscoring the Titans 24-14 over the final four minutes.
In all, the Bengals made nine 3-pointers. But New Mission used its athleticism to its advantage, with McDaniels and Davis drawing contact on hard drives and going a combined 11 of 12 from the free throw line in the second half, to keep this from getting too close for comfort.
"They worked hard. They worked hard," McCarthy said. "That's a tough team to hold down, as you can tell. But I think people came to play. Guys stepped up without Kachi -- that's 18 points a game, you know. That just shows the resolve this team has. They've been fighting adversity all day, all year, and it's showing. We're starting to build that mental toughness that I've been crying about, really complaining about, so they showed up."