MALDEN — In what was the true definition of a back-and-forth game, the Malden Catholic boys basketball team survived to beat Winthrop, 59-53, at Doherty Gym on Tuesday night. The game featured 12 lead changes and five ties, with momentum changing hands throughout.
“It was a tough game for us, but we were able to execute well down the stretch to pull it out,” said Malden Catholic coach Jim McCune.
Leading the way for Malden Catholic was senior captain Chris MacDonald, who had 25 points. Freshman Cristian Rios had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds (including seven in the first quarter alone), while freshman Lence Altenor had nine points and four rebounds. Junior captain Kendrick Jean-Francois added five points and 10 rebounds.
Winthrop was led by senior Tayjuan McKenzie, who had 21 points and nine rebounds. Senior Devin Pulsifer had 16 points and eight rebounds, while senior David Diaz had eight points off the bench.
“Those are our guys, and we go as they go every night,” Winthrop coach Dave Sacco said of McKenzie and Pulsifer. “We need them to not only score, but also to rebound and play defense and do all of the little things.”
Both teams got off to great defensive starts in this one, with each team employing a different strategy toward the opponent. The Lancers came out in a man-to-man defense with a full-court press, harassing the Winthrop ball-handlers from end to end. Winthrop also utilized the full-court press, but switched to a 2-3 zone defense in the half court to force Malden Catholic to make shots. Thanks in part to some big shots from MacDonald and Rios’ seven rebounds, the Lancers ended the first quarter with a 13-12 lead.
The second quarter featured seven lead changes and two ties, but somehow Malden Catholic was still able to slowly stretch out its lead. After a furious close to the half that saw them score eight points in the final 20 seconds, the Lancers went into the half with a 32-26 lead.
The second half is where Malden Catholic started to pull away. The Lancers got off to a quick start to stretch the lead to 10 points, but Winthrop didn’t quit. McKenzie had a huge second half for the Vikings, dropping 13 points and almost single-handedly keeping Winthrop in the game in that third quarter. But still, Malden Catholic was able to keep the Vikings at an arm’s length and went into the final quarter leading 43-36.
“We did a good job in the first half forcing them to take shots and not get to the basket, but give credit to Malden Catholic, they made the plays,” said Sacco. “It seemed like every time they needed to come up with the big play, they made one. And they ended up making a few more than us all night.”
The Lancers opened the fourth with a 5-0 run to get the lead back to double digits, but Winthrop responded right back with a 9-0 run of its own to make it a three-point game. Then, with Malden Catholic leading 54-53 in the final minute, MacDonald came off a screen and hit a dagger of a three-pointer with 30 seconds left to give the Lancers a four-point lead and effectively seal the win.
“We did a really good job on that final play,” said McCune. “We used up the shot clock well, came off screens and got the ball to our best player for the win, and that’s exactly how you want it to turn out.”
For Winthrop (1-4), the road doesn’t get any easier. The Vikings are back in action with a game against Maimonides tonight.
Malden Catholic (2-6) is trying to build momentum as a young team with its Catholic Conference schedule starting up. The Lancers will play against Catholic Memorial on Friday.