LYNN — If you didn’t know it, you’d never be able to tell that the KIPP boys basketball team has never played an MIAA state tournament game. After earning a bye in the first round, the No. 2 Panthers took down No. 10 Bishop Fenwick, 59-40, in the Division 4 North quarterfinals Thursday night at KIPP Academy. The two teams battled through the first three quarters, but KIPP made a number of plays down the stretch on both ends to earn the win.
“It was special,” said KIPP coach David White. “Our guys, especially our seniors, have worked extremely hard to get to this point, played three years in the charter league and grinded this year. But to have a No. 2 seed in the MIAA tournament, get a bye and then come out and put on a performance like this, it was special for us.”
KIPP was led by an impressive performance from Abdoul Barry, who put up a double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
“He’s a senior leader for us,” White said of Barry. “He had a gruesome ankle injury in the summer and he’s just now really starting to get into form. He came in and played a great game on the boards and made things happen on offense, so I tip my hat to him.”
Winfred Sanchez scored 13 points and five rebounds, while Algha Barry had five points and four rebounds. Pius Robert and Wallace Reed each added four points.
For Fenwick, Nik Pignone led all scorers with 23 points and Nate Andrews had 10 points and five rebounds. Christian Loescher (three points, seven rebounds) and Jason Romans (three points, four rebounds) also played well in the loss.
“We knew that KIPP was going to come with great pressure, and unfortunately we didn’t handle it well at first,” said Fenwick coach Kevin Moran. “But I knew we’d get back in it and make our run, which we did, but in the end KIPP was able to make more plays than we were.”
The game was a back-and-forth affair from the very beginning, with the two teams trading shots throughout the first quarter. KIPP got into early foul trouble which allowed Fenwick to jump ahead for a few minutes, but the Panthers rallied by the end of the quarter and took a 15-13 lead into the first break.
The second quarter was absolutely dominated by KIPP. The Panthers opened up a 20-point lead, outscoring the Crusaders 18-3 in the frame. Fenwick went on a scoreless drought of nearly 12 minutes that finally ended when Pignone hit a 3-pointer with three seconds left in the half. When the halftime buzzer sounded, KIPP took a 33-16 lead into the locker room.
But just when you thought Fenwick was down, the Crusaders fought right back. In the third quarter, Fenwick went on a 14-1 run of its own to cut the deficit to just four points. After a five-point rally by KIPP to end the quarter, the Panthers held just a 39-30 lead.
KIPP came out swinging again in the fourth. Behind big plays on both ends from Barry, Sanchez, Robert and J’ddon Vincent, the Panthers extended their lead back out to 19 points before the reserves for both sides were brought in.
“We preach mental toughness here, and I told the guys at halftime that Fenwick wasn’t going away,” White said. “We knew they were going to make their run and we just had to stay composed and stay together, and our guys were able to do that.”
With Fenwick’s season now over, the Crusaders (11-11) say goodbye to seven seniors, including lynchpin players like Pignone and Stuart.
“Those guys are culture changers,” said Moran. “JaySean fought back from a major knee injury for over a year and came back to play, and Nik is the leader of the pack and he changed the culture of Fenwick basketball for the better. I’m truly saddened that we’ll be losing those guys, but they put Fenwick back on the map in a good way.”
As for KIPP (16-5), the semifinal round awaits. The Panthers will play the winner of No. 3 Lowell Catholic vs. No. 11 Georgetown (Saturday at 2 p.m.) at a time and date to be determined.
“We just have to keep up the intensity,” White said. “When we play with intensity on defense, we’re a tough team to score on. If we can keep a team to 40 points like we did tonight, we’ll always put ourselves in a good position to win.”