Playing the EMass championship games at the TD Garden was a massive achievement for many teams, but winning a state title at the DCU Center on Saturday is what everyone is gunning for. Here's an in depth look at all three matchups.
Division 1 Mansfield Hornets (25-2) vs. Putnam Beavers (23-1) 7:30 p.m.
Mansfield outlook: The Hornets just won't stop buzzing. This is a group
of kids that consider themselves a family, and that chemistry has played a significant role in getting them to the state finals. Mansfield, which is on an 8-game winning streak, is carrying both momentum and confidence into Saturday's showdown.
But a team with only five seniors on its roster can't possibly be the best team in Massachusetts, right?
The most impressive factor of Mansfield's success is its depth. Whether it's sophomore Ryan Boulter lighting it up from beyond the arc or junior Kevin Conner dominating the paint, the Hornets are strikingly efficient in every facet of the game.
In the EMass championship game, Central Catholic held the Hornets to just three 3-pointers. Albeit, Mansfield adjusted accordingly throughout the game and was still able to fight off a talented Raiders team. That was the Hornets toughest test of the year, and they overcame.
It's not about who is scoring or how they're scoring, it's just about scoring the most points possible and getting the victory. It certainly won't be that simple on Saturday, though.
Putnam outlook: If defense wins championships then the Beavers are in good shape.
Regardless if it's half court press or zone, coach William Shepard has made it clear that his team relies on its aggressive defense. That was evident on Tuesday when the Beavers held Milford scoreless for the final 4 minutes of regulation. Furthermore, Putnam hasn't allowed more than 58 points in a game this season.
The work is cut out for them, but they're well-equipped to answer the call.
Besides relying on their stifling defense, Putnam runs an overwhelmingly fast-paced offensive attack, too. However, the area where the Beavers win most of the battles is on the boards. Against a team like Mansfield, who's tallest kid is 6-foot-5 Brendan Hill, rebounding could be a deciding factor.
Look for Dizel Wright and Kayjuan Bynum, who combined for 32 points in the win against Milford, to lead the charge for Putnam in the state title game.
Coaches Corner: "We're getting a lot of different contributions from different guys, and that's what makes this team unique and why I think we're here," said Hornets coach Mike Vaughn.
Division 2 Brighton Bengals (20-6) vs. South Hadley Tigers (17-7) 4
Brighton outlook: Mailk James' selfishness in the EMass championship game ended up being a valuable trait because he never gave up. With the Bengals trailing Scituate in the fourth quarter and James on the bench due to foul trouble, it seemed to be slowly slipping out of Brighton's reach. But Malik wasn't sitting on the bench quietly, he was there telling his coach to put him back in the game. If Brighton was going to lose, Malik wanted to be on the court. So Hugh Coleman sent his point guard back on the court, despite having 4 fouls.
The 6-foot-2 junior then led a storybook comeback, hitting a pair of free throws to tie the game at 52 with just seconds left. As Scituate tried to advance the ball for its final possession Malik went against his coach's orders, and at the risk of fouling out decided to reach in, coming up with a steal which led to a game-winning layup.
Feels like it's just destiny for Brighton, which lost to Mahar in last year's Division 2 state championship. The Bengals are back for redemption and with talented players like Nick Simpson and Prince Unaegbu, they could undoubtedly matchup against anybody. The question is will Brighton be able to get off to a quick start and keep that same intensity
throughout the course of the game?
South Hadley outlook: While Brighton rode out the game until the final
second, South Hadley was in fourth quarter domination mode. Tied at 40
after three quarters with St. Bernard's, the Tigers went wild and
outscored the Bernardians, 23-8, to advance to the state championship.
T.J Fitzell scored five 3-pointers just in the first quarter of that game and finished with 20 points. South Hadley went 8 for 30 from beyond the arc. If the Tigers come out firing from the start on Saturday it could either help or hurt them. Obviously, if the shots are falling then they'll keep shooting and jump out to a fast lead. But going against a team like Brighton, with great ball handlers, missed 3-point opportunities could lead to many explosive fast break points for the Bengals. What the Tigers should focus on is spreading the ball around in attempt to slow down the pace of the game and avoid those momentum
Brighton has the juice, does South Hadley have the answer?
Keep an eye on Evan Marcus who also finished with 20 points against St. Bernard's.
Coaches corner: "Last year's journey, to the point that it got us, taught us so much about what to expect, respect, appreciate," said Bengals coach Hugh Coleman. "And I feel like now we're able to go in with this sense of knowledge like appreciate it, don't take it for granted."
Division 3 Danvers Falcons (23-2) vs. Smith Academy Falcons (22-3)
Danvers outlook: One thing the defending Division 3 champs learned this past week is not to underestimate the opposing team. Martha's Vineyard surprised itself by making it to the Garden, but it was seconds away from shocking everyone else and knocking out the Falcons.
Danvers ended up hitting a few crucial free throws late in the fourth and was able to punch its ticket to the state championship game with hopes to win its second consecutive title. After starting the season 18-0 and then losing two straight, there was some speculation about Danvers yet the Falcons were never depleted. In fact, it might have even helped them surge through the state tournament.
With players like Eric Martin and Nicholas Bates commanding the floor, Danvers has an arsenal of weapons on offense. And if there's a team that likes to shoot the long-ball, this is it. Remember the names Vinny Clifford and Jake Cawlina.
Experience will play a big role in this one, and Danvers has plenty of it.
Smith Academy outlook: 1992. That was the last time Smith Academy won a state title.
After beating Littleton in on Tuesday, the Falcons moved a step closer to changing that date. Smith Academy's zone defense could actually be very effective against Danvers, but it also has to be cautious and not get overly aggressive.
If Smith forces early turnovers they'll be able to throw Danvers out of sync and take command of the game. As for the offense, they need to rely on Keith Natale and Derek McMahon, who combined for 38 points in the game against Littleton, to lead the way and control the tempo.
But if Smith Academy starts off slow on Saturday against Danvers, forget about a fourth quarter rally. Intensity out of the gate is a must.
Coaches corner: "We know how good they are. We've seen them play a few times before and we have to limit the 3-pointers," said Danvers coach John Walsh. "We went 17-56 from the field and were still able to get out of [TD Garden] with a win. It showed we are able to grind it out. The kids are upbeat and hoping they come out and repeat."
Andy Deossa covers boysı basketball for the Boston Globe. He can be
reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Andy_Deossa.
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