Classical boys advance vs. Andover

LYNN – From high school to the pros, coaches incessantly preach defense. The defensive presence of Bill Russell was the catalyst for 11 Celtic championships in 13 years, and experienced team defense is why the Detroit Pistons are the Green’s biggest obstacle in the Eastern Conference this season.But no matter how stifling the defense, no team can win if it does not score.In the Division 1 North state tournament preliminary-round matchup between Andover and Classical, the Rams struggled with the smothering defense of the Golden Warriors, but the visiting squad shot zero percent (0-17) from three-point land and was held to 19 second-half points in Classical’s 53-44 win.”I’ve known (Andover coach) Dave Fazio for a long time, and his teams are always well-prepared,” said Ram coach Tom Grassa. “They play tough man-to-man and always bring extra help. They’re a quality team.”Classical’s (14-9) reward for upending the Warriors is a first-round date with perennial powerhouse Charlestown (21-1) on Thursday.The Ram victory hands Andover (11-12) its first losing season in 19 years.”At the end of the day, our M.O. again was that we just don’t hit our shots,” Fazio said. “All year, we’ve been snake-bitten. I’m not making excuses, the shots were there, and come tourney time, you have to make them.”The first half seemed less like a showdown between the Warriors and Classical and more like the battle of Tristian Shannon (15 first-half points) and Derrick Beasley (6) versus Jasper Grassa (12) and Jarell Byrd (10). The aforementioned four combined for 43 of the 54 total first-half points as the Rams held a 29-25 advantage at intermission.In the first quarter, Classical went on a 10-0 run before a 7-0 Andover push in the final two minutes brought the Warriors back within two. Grassa scored the first five points of the second quarter before the Warriors got their act together on both ends of the court and forced a tie before a 6-0 Ram run gave the home team a lead it would not relinquish.After a defensive struggle in the third quarter (Classical won 8-6), the waning moments were a bit tense for the Rams after two unsuccessful one-and-one opportunities allowed Andover to pull within five with 42 seconds remaining.The Warriors had multiple chances late but continued to come up empty and time inevitably ran out.”The team played terrific D tonight,” Grassa said. “Andover plays in arguably the toughest conference in the state (the Merrimack Valley Conference) and seven of their losses were by three points or less.”For Classical, Byrd finished as his team’s high scorer with 16 and ended the contest with an emphatic one-handed slam as time expired. Grassa scored 14 and senior center Tony Johnson only had four points but made a serious impact with a game-high 20 rebounds.”Tony was our unsung hero tonight. He was terrific,” Grassa said.For the Warriors, Shannon ended with a game-high 19 points to go along with 10 boards. Beasley finished with 12. No other Andover player scored more than three points.

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