Bulldogs excited and eager to play at TD Garden

English junior guard Jarnel Guzman attempts a shot during Monday's practice at Paul F. Cavanagh Field House. (Item Photo by Owen O'Rourke)

LYNN — Getting to the Division 1 state semifinal has been a group effort for the English boys basketball team, and the Bulldogs have no intention of stopping now.

With contributions coming from all across the roster, the English players reflect coach Antonio Anderson’s mantra of “defense first.”

“We’ve just been taking things game by game, and we don’t overlook anybody,” said Anderson. “The guys have risen up and accepted every challenge. No one really thought we’d be here except for us, so we’re just taking everything in stride.”

The players agree.

“We’ve been having some really structured, tough practices lately that have really focused us,” said guard Jack Rodriguez. “It’s really helped us excel at the right time of the year.”

“I feel like we’re playing really well,” said guard Mason Jean-Baptiste. “We come into every practice with basically a brand-new gameplan, and everyone has been really focused on getting better each day.”

While the entire team has contributed, Alonzo Linton and Jarnel Guzman have led the way offensively. Guzman is the team’s high scorer with 72 total points in the Bulldogs’ three tournament games, while Linton is close behind with 59. And when you add in the contributions from Rodriguez, Jean-Baptiste and others, English doesn’t really have much to worry about on the offensive side of the ball.

“For us, the offense is going to come because we have a lot of weapons,” said Guzman. “It takes a lot of pressure off everyone and it just helps everyone keep up their energy level for the whole game.”

“Having so many guys chip in just makes it so much easier for all of us,” Linton said. “When we’re all out on the court playing well, we feel like we can pretty much do whatever we want. And no one really ever gets mad at each other because we know we’ll have another shot the next time up the floor.”

But the journey isn’t over yet, and there are still two wins that stand between the Bulldogs and a Division 1 state title. First thing’s first, English will have to beat South champion Newton North in the state semifinal Tuesday night.

“I’ve watched them a couple of times and we’ve seen some film, and we know that they’re a very good, well-coached team,” Anderson said. “They’ve got some guys who can make plays and overall they’re very solid. But I think if we can stick to our gameplan and play the way we’ve been playing, we’ll be alright.”

And don’t think the players aren’t excited to get the opportunity to play on the floor at the TD Garden, because they are. But as they all point out, getting the win is much more important to them.

“A lot of us grew up wanting to play in the TD Garden and saw all of our favorite players play there, so being able to actually do that is really cool,” said Linton. “Obviously there’s a lot of kids who play in this league that don’t get to play there, so we’re happy to be able to. But at the same time we can’t be too focused on that, because it’s all about getting the ‘W’.”

“Of course it’s exciting to be able to play there, that’s where Kyrie (Irving) plays and LeBron (James) has played and so many other great players,” said Rodriguez. “But we can’t really think about it, we just want to go out there and win.”

As for what the Bulldogs are working on in their final practice before the state semifinal, the main focus is defense.

“We work on defense every day, but the communication can always be better,” said Guzman. “If we can talk and switch on screens better and be more efficient on defense, I think we can take it to another level.”

“We know the offense is going to come, so on defense we want to make sure everyone is in the right spots,” said Jean-Baptiste. “Once we get there, it’s all about just working hard and trying to make plays.”

The Division 1 state semifinal between English and Newton North will tip off Tuesday night (7:15) at TD Garden.

More Stories From Lynn