LAWRENCE, Mass. -- It took three quarters, but Lawrence found the right mix of effort and execution needed to put away Methuen tonight, 69-58, in the opening round of the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament.
For the first three quarters, no Lawrence (4-0) lead was greater than six points. Going into the fourth up 46-42, the team ratcheted up its defensive pressure and overall tenacity to outscore Methuen (0-4) 23-16 to pull away and show what it is capable of when clicking on all cylinders.
“I thought the kids were playing hard, and that’s one of the things I’m stressing to the team, that we need to be the hardest working team when we go out there,” said Lawrence coach Raymond Nunez. “In regards to executing, we have a long way to go, especially on the defensive end.”
Methuen was kept in the game in large part because of its outside shooting. When Lawrence went up by four or six points early and appeared to be set to pull away, someone would hit a three-pointer to cut the deficit back down.
Lawrence did most of its damage around the basket, where Tre’von Farley and Roberto Speing each had a double-double. Speing was more active on the boards (16 points, 14 rebounds) while Farley (14 points, 10 rebounds) filled up his stat line in the latter half of the game.
“We really didn’t play together as a team,” said Farley. “We didn’t really play as one. This is a team that we should really be up against and if we play defense, that we should be able to put away. We were really slacking on the defensive end. We have to get better defensively.”
Lawrence will play in the semi-finals of the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament on Dec. 27 against the winner of the Pinkerton Academy-Greater Lawrence game, which will take place Friday.
Double Trouble: Not to say that any player is more important than another, but Lawrence’s success will depend on how Speing and Farley perform in games. When they are being fed the ball in the post or attacking the rim off the dribble, that is when the team has its most success. As the season rolls on, and with the team lacking a consistent long-range shooting threat, their consistency in the paint will be imperative if the team wants to make noise in the Merrimack Valley Conference.
That creates open space for teammates elsewhere if the defense collapses on them, they can draw fouls on the opposing big men, or they can make the most of second chance opportunities on the offensive glass.
“I think we need to do a better job of getting it to them in the post,” said Nunez. “We work our big guys day in and day out and the way you reward them is feed them in the post. I think we had an advantage down low, but we just struggled feeding them in the post. It’s going to come with time though.”
Putting either on the free throw line is also not a winning strategy for the opposition. Both Speing and Farley are above average free throw shooters for players their size. Tonight, they went a combined 8-of-11 from the line.
“We work off each other,” said Farley. “If Roberto’s on one side, we know just to box out and if the ball is going up, we just try to get hungry and go for the rebound. That’s just our main goal: to rebound. That’s our job.”
Trying to Find a Balance: Like most teams early in the season, Lawrence has had difficulty finding consistency on both ends of the floor. That was most evident Thursday, when coaches were yelling for the players to communicate on defense. For three quarters, there were breakdowns in the interior, which allowed players like Tim Galloway-Burke (14 points, 6 rebounds) and Jamal Rene (4 points, 8 rebounds) to occasionally muscle and maneuver their way around the paint.
That changed in the fourth, when the Lawrence players started showing up in hustle plays, where they were not in the first three quarters. Players were diving for balls on the ground, chasing balls and preventing them from going out of bounds, and attacking defensively, whereas earlier in the game, players were shying away from those.
Putting it all together: When a team’s biggest issue is effort, how can it become less of a problem? Is it something that can be taken care of in practice? Does the coaching staff have to pick up its demands on its players? Or is it just a matter of a team growing together and developing chemistry to make it easier to play together?
That is something a team like Lawrence will have to find out soon. There is no doubt the talent is there to be a dangerous team, but can it manifest that talent into a cohesive unit that can compete as it gets deeper into the season?
“It’s going to be a matter of us stressing it in practice,” said Nunez. “We have to get back into practice and just work at it. Then we have to rely on our three seniors coming back (Farley, Denny Gonzalez, and Esmelin Romero). I think those three guys can make a big impact on the defensive end, and also just in a leadership aspect. Just having that experience, I think they can help our young guys that are inexperienced with that.”