BOSTON– The English boys basketball team wasn’t intimidated by the bright lights at TD Garden Tuesday night. On the grandest stage of the season, the Bulldogs did what they do best-perform to the best of their abilities.
English sprinted out to a quick lead and never looked back, defeating South sectional champion Newton North 76-62 in the Division 1 state semifinal. With the win, the Bulldogs punched their ticket to Saturday’s (TBA) Division 1 state championship game against Putnam.
“No word can amount to how happy I am for them,” English second-year coach Antonio Anderson said. “The one thing they get is that it’s one game at a time. They see things, they see people thinking other teams would beat us. They see those things but they don’t say it. That drives them. For this group, these Lynn kids, it means the world. It means the world to them, to me, the city, the school and their families. I couldn’t ask for more.”
Jarnel Guzman led all scorers with 22 points, knocking down four 3-pointers. Alonzo Linton scored 20 points and Jack Rodriguez finished with 19. Justin Fitzpatrick and Mason Jean-Baptiste each scored six.
“We were able to spread the floor,” Anderson said. “Everyone’s able to create their own shot. That gives us a huge advantage on offense.”
From the opening tip, it was clear that Guzman and Linton weren’t fazed by playing at TD Garden.
“I told them to embrace it but at the same time focus,” Anderson said. “We’re all happy. I’m happy to be walking the same sideline that Doc Rivers and other guys coached at. But at the same time I want to win. They understand that.”
Linton scored seven of English’s first 12 points (Guzman accounted for the other five), powering the Bulldogs to a quick 12-5 lead midway through the first quarter. Hoping to shake off the early jitters, Newton North burned a timeout after Linton capped the early run with a basket in the paint. Instead, English kept its foot on the gas with back-to-back 3-pointers from Guzman. Linton sealed the first quarter with a layup in the closing seconds and English led 22-10.
“In the beginning I think guys were excited coming in,” Anderson said. “We just told them to calm down. Jarnel hit some shots. Alonzo hit some layups, Jack hit some layups. That got us going. We built a good lead.”
After a 5-1 Bulldogs run, Jean-Baptiste netted a 3-pointer to put the Bulldogs ahead 30-11 (English’s largest lead of the half). That’s when Newton North battled back with a much-needed rally. Tyson Duncan’s nine second-quarter points (he hit three 3-pointers) helped keep the Tigers in the game. Thomas Andreae scored the last point of the half on a free throw. English, with a nice job weathering the storm toward the end of the half, carried a 38-25 lead at halftime.
“They fought back,” Anderson said, “but we didn’t let it get within single-digits. We told them to keep our lead, keep the composure and keep them away from us.
“We had a point where Jarnel was out, then Alonzo was out,” Anderson said. “Other guys stepped up. Jack stepped up. Mason didn’t do a lot of scoring but he held Kyle Ray-Canada to (three points). Mason made things tough for him and he creates offense for us. We were able to get out running.”
The Bulldogs didn’t slow down in the third quarter. English started the second half with an 8-4 rally. Rodriguez added a three to match his team’s largest lead (19) at 49-30. Whenever the Tigers looked to climb within single-digits (they came as close as 13), English hit its shots and refused to let them in. Calvin Seng’s free throw closed the third quarter with English ahead, 60-42, heading into the fourth.
When it was time to put it away, English did just that. Brief runs from Newton North helped the Tigers shave their deficit down to 11 in the fourth quarter. Still, the Bulldogs didn’t allow the Tigers to come within single digits. Justin Fitzpatrick’s freebies with 1:45 to play put the Bulldogs up 71-56. The Bulldogs played keepaway in the closing minutes, emptied their bench and celebrated their Division 1 Eastern Mass. championship at the final buzzer. Kanye Wavezwa’s layup capped the scoring for English.
“We have one more,” Anderson said. “We just have to take it day by day and we’ll go from there.”