NEW BEDFORD, Mass. –- The opening minutes of the first installment of this home-and-home series two weeks ago played out similar to the way things did today. In that Dec. 21 meeting, Lowell center Drew Healy picked up two quick first-quarter fouls, then the Red Raiders exploded in the second quarter en route to a 93-39 blowout of New Bedford that one had to see to honestly believe.
Less than three minutes into this afternoon’s tussle at Ed Rodrigues Court, and the 6-foot-7 big man found himself in foul trouble again.
But if Lowell’s ensuing offense was a symphony in that first meeting, then today’s version was a dirge.
The No. 2 Red Raiders etched out a sloppy 57-51 win over the host Whalers thanks to some clutch free throws in the final minute, but nobody from Lowell left the Whaling City today happy with the way things played out.
Following the game, Lowell head coach Scott Boyle had some strong words for the team, and echoed similar sentiments to reporters.
“I’ll give [New Bedford coach Tom Tarpey] credit, his guys came out ready to play,” Boyle said. “It’s just our maturity of a team, we’re not gifted [enough] to come out and...Our guys might be reading the local newspapers, local media, thinking we’re good. We’re not good unless we really get after it.
“We’ve got a shot to be good, but if we come out with efforts like that? I mean, they outplayed us for stretches, and we won the last minute or two, but that’s not the way we want to do it. I give them credit, but I’m just disappointed with the focus we had.”
While limited by foul trouble, Healy (nine points, nine rebounds) came up clutch in the fourth quarter, going a perfect 4-for-4 from the field in the stanza and giving the Raiders (8-0) the final go-ahead points. He first cleaned up on an errant three from Jonathan Perez (18 points) for a 48-47 lead; then after Kevin Nunes sunk two free throws, Healy took a feed from Zaryn Green (11 points) in transition and finished with a powerful two-handed overhand slam, and 50-49 lead.
At the other end, Healy cleared out his defender to scoop up an errant Quincy Pope three-point attempt, and the Whalers (5-2) sent Perez to the line for free throws.
Perez, Kevin Brito and Kareem Davis combined for five free throws in the final 28 seconds to seal it.
At the other end of the court, Tarpey was pleased with the effort of his squad. Devoid of size outside 6-foot-3 center Josh Pontes, the Whalers make no qualms about their affinity for the press; in the first meeting, the Raiders easily slipped through the press for fast break after fast break. And above all else, the Raiders seemingly did what they pleased in the first meeting, as evidenced by the final score, but today’s contest was made gritty by the Whalers’ relentlessness in man-to-man sets.
“We got more and more confidence in the second half, and then we couldn’t get over the hump for whatever reason,” Tarpey said. “Defensive pressure kind of hurt us at the end, but they [Lowell] are a good team for a reason. I give my kids credit. After what happened last time, I just think it’s going to do wonders for our team.”
That opportunity to seize momentum was brought on late in the third quarter by sophomore Tyree Weston (16 points). With senior captain and point guard Rylin Collazo (12 points) on the bench with four fouls, the 5-foot-10 Weston took over ballhandling duties, and finished with three assists for the quarters. That included the crucial dish with 16 seconds left that gave them a 36-35 lead, finding Pope in right corner for an open trey that made it 36-35 Whalers.
“He’s tough,” Tarpey said of Weston. “He had to play the one because of foul trouble, and he’s just gonna be tough. He plays a lot older than a sophomore in big situations like that. We don’t like moral victories here, but you know what? Hopefully we can build on this and get better.”
Shoring up the D: When Healy encountered foul trouble in the first game of this series, the Raiders pushed up the tempo, inserted a smaller but quicker lineup, and torched the Whalers with slick ball movement around the perimeter in a five-out offensive look.
The difference this time around? The Whalers were much more aggressive in defending Brito (who had five 3-pointers in the first meeting), face-guarding him and generally making him uncomfortable. They also clamped down on Healy, double-teaming him and trying to limit his touches around the basket.
It took some bonus ball to get it done (Collazo, Weston and Pontes all picked three fouls each in the first half), but the Whalers did a good job of cutting off passing lanes as well.
“We didn’t want to let them get in the middle,” Tarpey said. “Mostly Davis, because we know when he’s in the middle he’s kicking out and these guys are hitting open three’s, so we didn’t want to let him get in the middle. We just wanted to play solid defense.
“Down there, we were gambling a lot, fouling a lot, we just said ‘Play solid defense’. And if they hit a three with a hand in their face, God bless them.”