BOSTON — The English boys basketball team knew it had to get off to a fast start Tuesday night at TD Garden.
“We talked about it before the game,” said Jarnel Guzman, the St. John’s Prep transfer who joined the Bulldogs this year and gave them speed, quickness and a deadly outside shot.
Guzman, a junior, teamed with senior Alonzo Linton to score 20 of the team’s 22 first-quarter points as the Bulldogs blew Newton North off the floor early and coasted to a 76-62 MIAA Division 1 state semifinal win over the Tigers.
The Bulldogs, 22-2, will play Putnam, which is from Western Massachusetts, for the state championship Saturday (TBA).
Both Guzman and Linton came out on fire — especially Guzman, who torched Newton North for three 3-pointers and 11 points in the first eight minutes.
“I don’t know why, but the court felt really good,” said Guzman. “Coach (Antonio Anderson) said to just go out and play, and let the game come to us.”
This will be the first time since 2009 that English has made it to the state final.
“I had no clue,” said Guzman. “One of our assistant coaches (Ryan Woumn) was on that team, and he told us.”
Those Bulldogs, coached by present-day Councilor-at-Large Buzzy Barton, lost to St. John’s of Shrewsbury.
By halftime, Linton, who wound up with 20 points, already had 16 points while Guzman, who ended up with 22, had 11. The third quarter proved to be a bit of a slog for the Bulldogs because Linton got his fourth foul with almost a period and a half to go, and spent four minutes on the bench.
However, this is where English’s depth took over. Aside from Guzman, who scored six points in the period, sophomore guard Jack Rodriguez scored eight of his 20 points in the third, and that helped the Bulldogs keep the Tigers from climbing back into the game. By the time the period ended, English, which had led by 13 at the break, had sprinted out to a 60-42 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Linton came back into the game refreshed and ready for action. The usual course of action would be for a foul-plagued player to ease on the defensive end to keep from getting No. 5. Linton would have none of that.
“In the beginning of the year, I was like that,” Linton said. “But coach talked to me and told me that I should just go out and play the way I always do. If I get the fifth foul, get the fifth foul and I sit down and cheer on my teammates.”
Linton didn’t have to do much cheering. He was in the game until Newton North removed its starters with just over two minutes to go, after which Anderson reciprocated.
Both Linton and Guzman knew early on that this team could be special.
“I knew from fall league,” Guzman said. “Everyone on the team knew, from the way we went at each other in practice. It was always a dogfight.”
Over Christmas, English suffered one of its two defeats, at the hands of St. Mary’s, in the championship game of the Walter J. Boverini Tournament.
“It was a great game,” said Linton. “I think we could have done more, maybe, but they fought hard and they won it at the end.”
From there, “it was just a lot of hard work,” said Linton, who had to go through a waiver process to play this season after transferring from Nashua, N.H., North last year. “All that stuff I had to go through, this feels nice.”
Of course, they both credit Anderson, a former Memphis forward who played in the championship game of 2008 NCAA Tournament.
“He teaches us a lot,” Linton said. “He talks about all the little things you have to do to win games. He’s on us about our grades, too, and our study habits. He stresses it.”