Wednesday, March 05, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — With a week to prepare for its first Western Massachusetts Division 1 Tournament opponent, the Northampton boys basketball team used that time to refocus for the postseason.
The work paid off with a dominate first half en route to a 54-36 home win over Cathedral in the quarterfinal round Friday.
“We had a really solid week of practice and on all of our minds was defense,” Northampton junior guard Jake Ross said. “We held them to nine in the half and three in the (first) quarter which is great for us. Our goal is to usually keep teams to under 40 and we did that tonight.”
The third-seeded Blue Devils (17-4) led 12-3 after the first quarter and 24-3 late in the second half. They held Panthers star Darrick Boyd scoreless in the first half and to six points for the game. Boyd had 25 points in a 60-38 loss to Northampton on Feb. 14.
“Our guys played great defense,” Northampton coach Rey Harp said. “We had great contributions from everyone who stepped on the court. One through five on the court anytime, they were ready to play defense. Holding a team like that to nine points in the first half, hats off to the guys who were playing that hard.”
Northampton will face No. 2 West Springfield (15-6) in the semifinal round, at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday at American International College in Springfield. West Springfield beat No. 7 Agawam 65-57 on Friday.
Since that first win over Cathedral, Northampton hadn’t been playing well. A lackluster end to the regular season saw a loss to West Springfield, a five-point win over Amherst and a seven-point win over Westfield.
“The last couple weeks we don’t think we played as well as we did,” Harp said. “We don’t think we played with the type of focus and execution that we could have down the stretch here. We had a great week of practice. It starts with our seniors, starts with our captions to set a tone.”
The spark that got the Blue Devils going came midway through the first quarter. Stevie Roach blocked a shot inside to trigger a fast break. Aidan Hirsch found Joe Warner on the block but the senior never really touched the ball. In one motion, he tipped the ball to Ross in the corner for a 3-pointer.
On Hamp’s next possession, good ball movement found Tyler Hannigan-Page on the wing and the senior buried a 3 for an 8-1 lead. Cathedral called timeout but couldn’t answer. Hannigan-Page then found Warner inside for a 10-1 lead, and Ross hit Roach with a bounce pass for a layup inside and a 12-3 lead to end the first.
Getting a lot of contributions “is a great to see because it takes a lot of pressure off some of our guys,” Ross said. “To see our big men making moves like that is a great thing. Stevie had a great game. Joe and Tyler all stepped up.”
A 12-0 run to start the second quarter blew the game open. Hannigan-Page and Hirsch each hit a 3 during the spurt. The highlight of the run came when Hannigan-Page blocked a shot and found Ross to start a break. Ross then gave it back to Hannigan-Page for the layup inside and a 24-2 lead.
“We came in trying to not take the first good look, but pass it and get a better one,” Hirsch said. “That’s what we did and it worked against their defense.”
Cathedral never threatened in the second half as Northampton maintained its lead.
Ross finished with 12 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. The junior is 15 points shy of 1,000 in his career. Hirsch had 11 points and Roach 10.
Cullen Burke had 17 points for Cathedral.
“We’ve had some issues coming out in the third quarter where it’s almost like let’s be done with the game,” Harp said. “We know Cathedral is a good team, a proud team and has great players. There was no way that that game was going to look like that for long. We were preparing for when that great big push was going to come in the first few minutes of that quarter. That’s what we were expecting and that’s what we saw.”
Mike Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.