SAUGUS — If there were any doubts as to whether or not the Saugus boys basketball team wanted to play in the state tournament, the Sachems erased those question marks Wednesday night. Saugus, needing a win its regular season finale to punch its ticket to the playoffs, put forth one of its best performances of the year. The end result was a 74-37 win over Matignon at John W. Towers Gymnasium.
“When you’re in the Northeastern Conference and you’re a Division 3 team, it’s tough,” Saugus coach Mark Bertrand said. “It’s a tough conference. We’ve had some tough games and some tough losses. We were in a lot of our games. I told our guys, ‘this is when it’s going to start to pay off.’ That was our locker room talk. It was a big night for our seniors. This is our ninth year in a row that we’ve made the tournament. The seniors didn’t want to break that chain.”
With the win, Saugus qualified for the Division 3 North state tournament under the Sullivan Rule. The rule grants teams with a win percentage of .500 or above against opponents in their division or higher entry into the tournament.
Saugus featured 10 scorers in the win. Joe Lusso scored a game-high 18 points. Christian Correia (14) and Kenny Okoye (12) also reached double-figures. Mason Nickolas scored nine points (he drilled three 3-pointers) and Jake Morgante added six.
“Jake came out with a fire, which was great,” Bertrand said. “He’s been the leader of the team. He made a nice speech before the game. He said, ‘this is a game we want to play. We want to practice (Thursday).’ That was important to them.”
It was Correia that put Saugus on his back in the first quarter. The junior forward powered the Sachems to a 12-0 run out of the gate. Okoye blocked a shot and found a wide-open Correia in transition for an easy layup, giving Saugus a 14-0 lead and prompting the Warriors to use a timeout. Kevin Maguire hit a 3-pointer to put Matignon on the board after the Warriors went six minutes without scoring. But Matignon couldn’t find much offense in the first quarter and trailed 20-5 heading into the second.
“Christian’s an all-star for us, for sure,” Bertrand said. “He’s one of the better players in our conference. He’s taking charge, doing great things for us. He’s a junior captain, he’s taken charge. He started on fire.”
A 9-2 Sachems run to start the second quarter bumped the Saugus lead into the 20s (29-7). Okoye livened the crowd with a highlight-reel slam dunk toward the end of the half and almost had another one on the next possession.
“It’s been a long time since someone has thrown one home at Saugus High,” Bertrand said. “It really has. Kenny’s been dunking a lot in practice. We try to get him dunking all the time. The thing a lot of people don’t understand about Kenny is this is only his third year of organized basketball. He’s really come a long way. He’s done some really big things. I expect big things from him next year and in the tournament.”
At halftime, the Sachems held full command with a 40-15 lead.
Saugus didn’t lose any momentum in the second half. Nickolas swished back-to-back 3-pointers to start the third quarter to continue the rout. With a 61-26 lead at the end of the third, the Sachems coasted through the fourth quarter to finish the win. Morgante highlighted the fourth quarter with his six points.
“We wanted to not let our foot off the throttle,” Bertrand said. “We’ve been on the other end of those so we know how it feels. I thought we mixed it up very well defensively. We kept them off guard. They had some inexperienced guys and we took it to them on that end. I was really happy with the way we mixed it up.”
Saugus now turns its attention toward preparing for states. The tournament pairings will be announced Friday.
“We’re just going to get back in the gym,” Bertrand said. “The kids are all excited. That’s the good thing about this team, they want to be at practice. We’ll practice the next few days, see what the seedings are.”