SJP topples Lawrence with strong second half

BOSTON -- It's hard to believe that the Division 1 North sectional final between St. John’s Prep and Lawrence was a one-point game at halftime.

Led by a 16-point second half from Mike Carbone and a 15-point second half from Pat Connaughton, St. John’s Prep came away with an 87-73 victory to become the Division 1 North Champion.

Prep was ahead only 47-46 at the half after having struggled with Lawrence’s lightning quick transition attack.

“At halftime it was a track meet and we knew if we got into a track meet with them it was going to be tough,” said Prep’s Pat Connaughton. “Our gameplan was to slow them down and not get into a track meet because it wasn’t that we didn’t think we couldn’t score with them, it was that we thought they could score, and score quick.”

Connaughton, the Notre Dame-bound senior, finished with 28 points and 16 rebounds, but it was Carbone who shined most for the Eagles with 31 points, including seven 3-pointers.

“That’s the only way you’re going to win in the tournament, is by having different guys step up every night, you can’t just rely on one guy,” Prep head coach Sean Connolly said. “Some teams are going to shut down one or two guys so you need other guys to step up and do things if you’re going to make a run.”

Prep (23-1) will face Mansfield, the Division 1 South Champion, next week at the TD Garden.

Lawrence (16-9) started the game working the ball inside to 6-foot-6 big man Jesse Hiraldo, who put six points on the board early to give the Lancers a quick lead. Hiraldo, easily the biggest player on the floor, created a mismatch against the small Prep lineup.

He picked up three early fouls, however, giving him a spot on the bench and forcing his team to play a smaller lineup as well.

“This is definitely a game where I thought we needed Jesse,” Lawrence head coach Paul Neal said. “You can’t live by the threes only, we needed an inside presence and I thought he gave us that early. That was our advantage. The guards were going to be able to play us even, but we needed a presence inside. Then he got into foul trouble and it just took us out of the game. Without him in the game it really made a difference.”

Hiralod finished with 11 points and six rebounds for the Lancers.

In the third quarter, the shots that were falling for Lawrence in the first half were not falling for them. That was when Carbone hit five of his seven treys, stretching Prep’s lead to 68-56 by the end of the third. The Prep lead got to as big as 19 in the fourth.

Steve Haladyna also added 17 points and six rebounds for Prep.

Jaylen Alicea finished with 30 points for Lawrence. In the third quarter, he surpassed the 1,000-point mark for his high school career, cementing his legacy as one of the best guards to ever play for Lawrence.

Lawrence came into the postseason as a No. 15 seed, after victories over No. 2 seed Cambridge, No. 7 Westford, and No. 3 Lynn English. While that is an achievement in and of itself, the Lancers still could not accomplish their ultimate goal.

“You have to be disappointed because you had goals, and when you don’t accomplish them, you get disappointed, especially when I see the emotion in my kids and I know what they gave us,” said Neal. “But I can also look back and I feel grateful because I’ve been coaching for 12 years and I’m lucky enough to have players that put me in this position to coach in this type of atmosphere. There’s a lot of coaches that will never have that opportunity, and they gave me that.”