SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- No. 20 West Springfield survived a test Thursday night, as the Terriers used a 19-6 fourth quarter -– in which they held host team, Springfield Cathedral to two field goals –- to come away with a 52-42 victory at American International College.
West Side (8-0) and Cathedral (6-2), two of the better defensive teams in Western Mass., showed it through the first three quarters with the Panthers nursing a 36-33 lead.
The Terriers opened the fourth quarter with the only offensive burst of the evening. Senior forward Chris Lipscomb started the run with an offensive put back, before junior guard Paul Bessette became the catalyst for the undefeated West Side. The 5-foot-8 guard pulled a euro step around a defender in transition to give West Side a 37-36 lead and followed that with a fast break 3-pointer, headlining the 7-0 run.
“That spurt there, we hadn’t led by more than one or two all game,” said West Side head coach Chris Gerber. “Not until he (Bessette) stopped on a dime and hit that three that gave us a four-point lead. And that was the first spot of separation the entire game.”
In only his second game of the season, Bessette had a pair of consecutive drives that resulted in big Terrier baskets. The West Side point guard drove to the lane, only to dump off to Lipscomb for the two. Following a Cathedral three to make it a two-possession game with 1:44 to play, Bessette again found himself in the lane, finding fellow junior Andy McNulty in the corner for the 3-pointer to give West Side a 49-40 lead, securing an eight straight win to open the season.
“It was a defensive battle” said Bessette. “When plays needed to be made we had to make them.”
The Terriers defense helped give them the lead at the end of the half, but more importantly stepped up big in the fourth quarter. West Side outscored Cathedral 19-6, only giving up a 3-pointer, free throw, and a layup at the buzzer.
“We did what we do a little bit better,” said Gerber. “We didn’t change anything, we just played better defense in the fourth quarter better than we did the first three.”
Cathedral had a 10-3 run in the third to give them a 36-33 lead heading into the fourth.
Lipscomb had a game-high 16 points and six rebounds, while Bessette added 15 points and five assists. Cathedral was led by senior guard Devon Murphy-Stanley’s 15 points and five rebounds. Lou Garcia chipped in 12.
First of three tests: The month of January is unkind to West Springfield. The Terriers hit a grind next week, playing three games in five days, ending with a matchup against defending state champion, Springfield Central, as part of Day 2 of the 2013 Spalding Hoophall Classic. A week later the Terriers play at Springfield Putnam in the first of two games this season.
Thursday night, against a good Cathedral team, West Side answered its first test of the season.
“This was probably our biggest test,” said Lipscomb. “We’ve played good teams in the past and we were able to pull it out. We didn’t play our best but we made plays in the end.”
West Side had to handle two of the better guard in Western Mass. in Garcia and sophomore Darrick Boyd. The 5-foot-9 Boyd, who entered the game averaging over 20 points per game, was held to only five points, as the Terriers stopped the Panthers pick-and-roll play.
“It was a battle, there are two very good players and we pulled out a win against a scrappy Cathedral team,” McNulty said.
West Side doesn’t offer much size, which could pose as a problem especially against Putnam, and Chris Baldwin and Kamari Robinson of Central.
“We just need to box out and play as hard as possible,” said senior wing Riyadh Asad. “We don’t care about our size. We play with anyone.”
Bessette puts West Side at full strength: Bessette was out for West Side’s first six games, but with the junior point guard back in the lineup, it makes West Side a deeper team. Bessette adds another shooter to a team filled with shooters and gives Gerber another ball handler to rely on.
McNulty carried most of the point guard load this season and now can stay on the perimeter to shoot and become more of a scoring option.
“It’s always good to have another ball handler and getting him back in the lineup and freeing me up for some shots,” said McNulty.
It also gives more defensive pressure to a West Side team that is very aggressive team defense.
Shooting woes on both sides: Aside from being strong defensive teams, both teams rely on 3-point shooting due to the talent in the backcourt. However, Thursday night was not a good night shooting by either team.
West Side was 5-of-19 from behind the arc, while Cathedral went 4-of-20 from deep. Boyd, who has battled injuries recently, got some good looks but could not find his stroke from three, only connecting on one. Murphy-Stanley had a trio of three’s in the loss.
The Terriers were better in the second half with a 3-of-8 shooting from behind the arc, including big ones from Bessette and McNulty to take the lead and ice the game.
“We didn’t take quality looks. We were taking quick ones, rushed ones,” said Gerber. “We didn’t get good looks for each.”