WEST ROXBURY, Mass. -- With a full arsenal of offensive weapons and the ability to implement their patented defensive pressure all over the court, the Catholic Memorial Knights had no issues enacting some revenge on the visiting Franklin Panthers.
The Knights suffered their first loss of the season when they fell at Franklin, 92-87, last December and Friday’s rematch with the Panthers started in troublesome fashion, as Franklin jumped out to a 9-4 lead in the opening minutes.
Yet the defending Division 1 State Champions were able to respond with a quick 8-0 run, cement their lead with a 14-0 run to make it 44-22 in the middle of the second quarter, and squash any hope for the opposition by opening up a 41-point lead towards the end of the third quarter.
Despite a late run from Franklin’s reserves in the fourth quarter, Catholic Memorial (17-2) coasted to an 87-64 win, which marks their 31st consecutive victory at the school’s Ronald Perry Gymnasium.
“We had a bitter taste in our mouth from when we lost to [Franklin] earlier in the year and we definitely wanted to bounce back,” said Knights senior captain Brandon Twitty. “We wanted to show them that we’re a better team now.”
While Twitty was mired in a shooting slump earlier this season, he broke out of it recently and scored his 1,000th career point earlier this week. He carried that momentum into this contest by knocking down four of his first five attempts from long range to key the 14-0 run that took the wind out of Franklin’s sails.
Twitty spent time working with his shooting coaches over the past week and credited them for his improvement.
“I’ve been trying to key in on my shooting motion and study the model of how a typical shooter shoots,” explained Twitty. “This week I focused on my jump shot, made the adjustments that I needed to and thankfully I was able to shoot well tonight.”
Franklin (13-6) hit 17 of 34 attempts from long range to outgun Catholic Memorial when these teams met in December. Yet after hitting their first two shots from deep in this contest, the Panthers went ice cold as they missed 10 of their next 11 tries from beyond the arc.
Knights head coach Denis Tobin asserted that the pace of play might have led to the Panthers misfiring from deep when he said, “The pace of the game wasn’t where we wanted it to be in the first game. This time it was really in our favor. It’s hard to make threes consistently when you’re sprinting up and down the floor all the time.”
The fast pace of the game seemed to get to Franklin during a disastrous third quarter. The Panthers turned it over 11 times while managing just 13 points in that frame and let the game get completely beyond their reach in the process.
The Pieces Fit: Catholic Memorial’s relentless defensive pressure seemed to wear the Panthers down, but the Knights would not have won so easily if they had not performed with ruthless efficiency on the offensive end.
That offense flowed through senior captains Matt Hanna (23 points) and Steven Azums (8 points, 9 rebounds), along with Twitty (27 points, 6 of 10 from three-point range) and junior forward Ulyen Coleman (19 points).
However, the final piece to the offensive puzzle is a senior point guard who transferred to Catholic Memorial this year and plays a very important role for the Knights.
Justin Leip only scored two points on three field goal attempts in this contest, but his fingerprints were all over the game. He dove and slid approximately 20 feet across the floor to secure a loose ball in the first quarter, set the tone with his quick-footed defense, and threw a couple of lasers across the court to set up Hanna and Twitty for open shots.
“[Leip] is a tremendous on-ball defender and if there is a 50-50 ball when anywhere near him, he’s going to get it. That’s the mark of his toughness,” Tobin effused. “He did a great job pushing the ball and finding our scorers in transition. Some guys only see half the court, but Justin [Leip] sees the whole court and he’s a pleasure to coach.”
This was Leip’s first game back after missing the last three contests with an illness, and his presence clearly made a difference.
“All the pieces are really starting to fall into place for us,” said Tobin. “We’re still missing Brian Grant, but we’re looking forward to getting him back soon and hopefully we’ll be ready to make a [state] tournament run.”
The Knights were without their starting forward in Grant for this contest, so it’s scary to think that they can perform at this level when they’re not quite at full strength.
With one more regular season game on the schedule, Catholic Memorial is looking like a lock to finish the regular season as the top seed in the Division 1 South bracket for the upcoming MIAA state tournament.
That means the Knights will be able to host games in the first two rounds of the tournament, and they continue to prove that they’re borderline unbeatable when they play in the friendly confines of their home gym.
Catholic Memorial 87, Franklin 64
CM 27 26 25 9 --- 87
NS 18 10 13 23 --- 64
Catholic Memorial – Matt Hanna (23 points, 3 assists, 2 steals)
Catholic Memorial – Ulyen Coleman (19 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists)
Catholic Memorial – Brandon Twitty (27 points, 4 rebounds)
Catholic Memorial – Justin Leip (2 points, 6 assists, 4 steals)
Franklin – Tim Prunier (9 points, 2 assists)
Franklin – Kevin Gill (8 points, 2 rebounds)
Franklin – Josh Macchi (6 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals)