DORCHESTER, Mass. -- Newton North punched its ticket to play at the TD Garden for the Division 1 South Championship Friday, with an emphatic 67-44 win over New Bedford Tuesday night at UMass-Boston's Clark Athletic Center.
With such an eye-popping point differential, one would think it was offense that propelled the Tigers (19-6) to victory, but it was their defense and rebounding that allowed them to move on to the South Finals. As a team, it had 40 rebounds, eight steals, and four blocks
“I think our defense right now is playing phenomenal,” Newton North head coach Paul Connolly said. “The last team we played (Weymouth) was averaging 67 points and we held them to 45. New Bedford was averaging 69 and we held them to 44. This group has come together so well. I just really like my team right now.”
Luke Westman lead the way for Newton North by making an impact on all sides of the ball, not just with points. He finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, and four steals that all led to transition points for North.
North had a 15-7 lead after one quarter, but after turning the ball over multiple times, the Whalers (17-4) battled back and tied the score at 20 with three minutes left to go in the half. With North only having a 26-23 lead at the half, it appeared to be anyone’s ballgame.
New Bedford took the lead with five minutes to go in the third quarter, when they went ahead 29-28. In a matter of seconds, though, North was back on top 31-29 and continued to stretch its lead for the remainder of the game.
After not having a lead over eight points in the first half, North stretched its lead to 12 points by the end of the third quarter. It came on the heels of a 13-5 point run that appeared to swing all the momentum in North’s favor.
“As soon as they got the lead, I think that’s when we really clicked and we really stepped our game up and we never looked back,” said Newton North senior guard Avi Adler-Cohen (19 points). “I told the guys we had to punch first. We’ve got down early in other games and we had to battle back. Here we had the lead and we let them get back into it and kind of took it into an extra gear and finished it off.”
North stretched its lead to 14 in the early minutes of the fourth and again used transition opportunities sparked by turnovers to stretch its lead to as many as 19 points and eventually the 23-point victory.
In the final frame, the New Bedford players were becoming visibly upset with how the game was unfolding, and North took advantage of its opponents' low spirits.
“When you see that, that’s when you really have to step on their throats and you just have to keep it there,” Adler-Cohen said. “When you see them start to crumble that’s when you really can’t let up at all. You have to go to that extra gear because that’s when they’re weakest. That’s what we did and we expanded our lead from 10 to 20, and then the game’s over.”
North will play Mansfield Friday at the Garden, and the team knows it won’t be easy.
“They’re a good team, they knocked us out last year (in the D1 South quarterfinals) so I know it’s a huge revenge game for us, we don’t want to lose to them two years in a row,” Adler-Cohen said. “They’re talented, they’re the No. 1 seed in the South so you know they’re going to be good. But if we come in with a game plan and execute it I think we can play with anyone right now.”
“They’re a terrific passing team, they’re very very well-coached, so we know it’s going to be a good game, but we’re going to enjoy this right now and worry about that on Friday,” Connolly said.