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Holyoke edges Northampton boys basketball in overtime

NORTHAMPTON — In a hotly contested game in which the Northampton boys basketball team led for the first three and a half quarters, the Blue Devils lost to Holyoke 68-65 in an intense and emotional overtime thriller.

The game had playoff implications for both sides, as the teams were competing for positioning in the upcoming Western Massachusetts Division 1 Tournament.

After Justin Burgos sent the game into overtime with a game-tying 3-pointer, the Blue Devils succumbed to the Purple Knights’ pressure. Holyoke outscored Hamp 11-8 to pull out the victory.

“We have to finish,” Northampton coach Rey Harp said. “We have to learn how to finish games like these, but not at one point did we think that this game under wraps. This was a hard fought game between two teams that are playoff-bound. We simply lost because they scored more points than us tonight.”

The Blue Devils got out to a very quick start in the game’s opening quarter. Sophomore forward Jake Ross made his presence known from the onset, scoring nine of Northampton’s 15 first quarter points.

Northampton continued to be aggressive on both ends of the floor, constantly pressuring Holyoke ball handlers on defense and using excellent ball movement on offense to score easy baskets. It made use of its imposing interior size to outrebound the Knights and headed into halftime ahead 28-21.

In the second half, the tide started to change. Unlike the first half in which the Blue Devils effective ball pressure left Holyoke’s offense disjointed and out of sync, the Knights used better spacing and ball movement to re-assert themselves into game, cutting what was once a nine-point Northampton lead down to a single point.

For most of the fourth quarter, Holyoke was in striking distance, but was thwarted by key baskets by Justin Burgos (26 points) and Jake Ross (18 points), who combined to score 44 points.

Holyoke pulled ahead late in the fourth quarter on an Emmanuel Rivera 3-pointer that made it 57-54 with a little over a minute left in regulation. Rivera, largely a non-factor in the game’s first half, erupted for 14 points in the final quarter, hitting four 3-pointers in the process.

However, Northampton did not go away quietly. On the very next possession, Burgos quickly replied with a 3 of his own, sending the home crowd into a frenzy and forcing overtime in the process.

In the extra frame, Northampton started strong, but eventually withered under the Knights’ defensive pressure, turning the ball over repeatedly and allowing Holyoke to get into transition, where it scored easy baskets.

Harp refused to linger on the loss, instead optimistically looking ahead to the postseason.

“We control our destiny,” said Harp. “If we win every game from here on out, we’re the state champions. The loss itself doesn’t change anything about what our intentions are, what we’re playing for, or about how hard we fight.”

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