Key shots down the stretch push Spartans past Panthers

Ademide Badmus (left) and Joey Abate-Walsh (right) pair up to block Winfred Sanchez's shot. (Item Photo by Owen O'Rourke)

LYNN — Perhaps most of the spectators who walked into the Tony Conigliaro Gymnasium for Friday night’s game between the KIPP Academy and St. Mary’s boys basketball teams thought the Spartans would roll to a victory. The Panthers had other plans.

KIPP gave St. Mary’s a wire-to-wire battle for three quarters, coming as close as five points of the Spartans. But St. Mary’s hit its shots in the closing stretch and walked away with a 67-48 win to remain undefeated.

“It just shows how much talent we have in Lynn,” Spartans coach Dave Brown said. “Some of KIPP’s kids are young too. A few of them are sophomores. We can put out five basketball teams and most years we’re competitive.

“Right now, a lot of our guys are sick,” Brown added. “The last few days, we haven’t had great practices because of that. But I told the kids, ‘we’re going to take everyone’s best punch.’ Especially in the city of Lynn. We’re supposed to be the top dog here now. If someone like KIPP knocks us off in our own gym that’s a big victory for them. I’m not surprised by the effort they gave.”

Jalen Echevarria led all scorers with 18 points and dished five assists. Ademide Badmus just missed a double-double at 15 points and eight rebounds. Joey Abate-Walsh scored 14 points with six blocks and Marcus Brunson-Perez added 11 points off the bench.

Wallace Reed scored 15 points for KIPP, Winfred Sanchez added 10 and Ricky Maestre finished with nine.

“It’s a huge step for our program just to compete with a MIAA team and a team like St. Mary’s, who competes for a state championship year in and year out,” Panthers coach David White said. “It’s a great test for us to see where we’re at and we saw that tonight.”

With the height advantage, the Spartans went to the paint to take an early lead. Badmus hit back to back baskets to get things started in the first quarter. Showing their fight, the Panthers netted consecutive lay-ins toward the end of the quarter to get within nine, down 21-12. Echevarria swished a pair of freebies to close the quarter with the Spartans ahead 23-12.

Points were a bit more scarce in the second quarter, when both defenses took the intensity up a notch and both offenses slowed down. KIPP hung within striking distance, down 31-23, heading to the final minute of the half. Brunson-Perez knocked in a 3-pointer to give the Spartans a 34-23 lead at halftime.

KIPP whittled St. Mary’s lead to as little as five points (49-44) when Reed banked in a 3-pointer with 1:40 left in the third quarter.

Quickly answered the Spartans with a 3-pointer from Echevarria and they led 51-41 going into the fourth quarter.

“That was big,” Brown said. “Jalen, our senior leader, made a big shot. The energy picked up, the crowd got into the game a little bit. At that point, guys stepped up defensively and we knocked in shots. Joey knocked down some shots late which made a big difference.”

The wheels fell off for the Panthers from there. KIPP’s offense stalled, scoring just a point six and a half minutes into the period. Meanwhile the Spartans watched their advantage stretch into the 20’s en route to the win.

“I think our mental toughness and focus weren’t there,” White said. “I think that was the difference. We cut it to a five-point game, next play we let their best player hit a wide-open three-pointer. There goes the ballgame. Little things like that. They’re battle-tested. We’re not battle-tested enough to have that mental focus through adversity.”

St. Mary’s (8-0) hosts Cardinal Spellman next Monday (6:30).

“I’m expecting everyone’s best punch,” Brown said. “Spellman’s a very well coached team who’s going to compete. We have to be ready. It’s going to be great to get Chibuikem (Onwuogu) back, he gets back from Nigeria (Saturday). He’s one of our best defensive players. That’s going to help us.”

The Panthers (6-2) host Minuteman next Tuesday (5).

“I’m just hoping to see effort and toughness,” White said. “I don’t care what the outcome is. As long as we’re the hardest working team and we’re showing effort, and we’re mentally tough.”

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