LOWELL -- Brighton is heading to the TD Garden for a second straight year after defeating North Andover 64-59 in the North division final at the Tsongas Center.
“I’m really trying to get the guys to have a sense of urgency each game and to realize we can't wait,” coach Hugh Coleman said. “Sometimes we wait to get a feel; you want to feel a team out. I’ve been stressing since the playoffs started, get up, get after it, even from the opening [tip], attack.”
The Bengals may have been down by five after the first half but they certainly came out with that sense of urgency in the second. Junior Malik James led the aggressive attack with 10 points in the third quarter alone. The point guard had just one basket in the first half.
“I had to play through it. I just didn’t want to lose, I didn’t want my season to be over,” James said. “So the third quarter, fourth quarter I got other people involved more than trying to take my shots.”
The players that benefited most from James’ penetration in the fourth would have to be senior guard Daivon Edwards (17 points) and junior forward Nick Simpson (24 points).
With 3:20 to play in the fourth, Edwards hit a crucial 3-pointer off of a James’ pass from the right wing to put Brighton up 55-51.
After two straight North Andover baskets and a made shot by Bengal senior Prince Unaegbu, Simpson made a 3-point play in transition to give Brighton a two-possession lead.
“If [Malik’s] penetrating, they got to collapse the defense leaving it open for Daivon or Nick so we hope that’s kind of basic basketball, basic basketball principles, and it’s worked pretty well for us,” Coleman said.
For North Andover, the loss marked the end of a 31-year career for coach Mike McVeigh at North Andover. The coach, who will be turning 65 this summer, announced his retirement after the game.
“I made the decision about two months ago and from then on, every single day in practice I enjoyed. Every single day, I looked at those guys even when I get mad and all that stuff, I appreciated my guys and every single day I just was grateful to a job that I’ve loved for a long time,” McVeigh said.
McVeigh had reason to be proud of senior Derek Collins after his 26 points and seven 3-pointers propelled North Andover to a win over Wakefield. Coleman, who was a spectator at the game, said that the performance left him searching for ways to defend the guard.
“We have a lot of guys, we don’t play them as much, you know you limit your bench but you know what today we are going to send as many guys we can after [Collins], try to limit his shot, make it tough for him, try to wear him down,” Coleman said.
The depth proved to be just what Brighton needed. The Bengals held the guard to 16 points and just a 2-point second half.
“Our strategy was to make the game fast, pressure their guards and like send 4, 5 guys right off the bench at 21 to limit what he can do for them and fortunately to some extent it worked,” Coleman said.
While the season may be over for McVeigh and North Andover, Coleman and his Bengals said that they are ready to make their mark at the Garden.
“We made it to the state championship appearance last year, that was the first in school history and they still don’t have a state championship so hopefully we can take it one game at a time, focus, prepare and take care of business at the Garden.”
Brighton will take on Scituate for the Division 2 Eastern Mass. championship.
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