Published in the February 17, 2020 edition.


BURLINGTON — Talk about a tough environment to win a game.

The Wakefield High boys’ basketball team traveled to Burlington on Thursday night to play the Freedom Division-leading Red Devils.

With both teams having already qualified for the Div. 2 North tournament, there was some wonder as to what kind of intensity both sides would provide. That question was answered in about 10 seconds when captain Ryan Marcus drove to the bucket on Wakefield’s first possession for two of his 23 points.

Burlington took a 17-14 lead after one, Wakefield responded with a 20-point second to take a 34-28 lead into halftime, then led 47-45 after three until Burlington tied it at 64 and sent it into overtime.

The Warriors had a chance in OT but turned it over with a 73-72 lead and 28.6 seconds remaining. Aidan Olivier (28 points) hit four free throws to end the game as Burlington escaped with a 76-73 win.

The stakes weren’t high on paper with Burlington having already clinched the division when Wakefield fell to Winchester on Tuesday.

But the Warriors wanted it to be clear that they can beat anyone in the league. Despite the loss, that belief should still exist.

Marcus finished with seven points to lead the way in the first quarter and stay within striking distance.

Brett Okundaye scored 10 of his team-high 26 points in the second quarter. He started things off with a strong and-one through contact and hit the free throw to tie it at 17.

Chris Miller got two offensive rebounds on the same possession and later dove on the floor and got a timeout called to get the ball back. With two talented teams capable of putting up big points, these are often the plays that win games.

That possession out of the timeout ended with a Marcus layup after a beautiful spin the in paint to put Wakefield up 21-17.

Later, on a broken play, Jeff DiFazio saved the ball from going out of bounds on the baseline and threw it up to Okundaye on the left wing with the shot clock about to expire. The junior launched a deep 3 that dropped for a 24-19 lead. Call it a desperation shot if you want, but great players always love those challenges.

Olivier kept Burlington in the game in the second quarter, matching Okundaye with 10 points in the frame. Just as Wakefield seemed to be pulling away with a seven-point lead, Olivier hit a 3 and a layup to make it 26-24 with three minutes left.

After two Marcus free throws, Okundaye pushed the lead back to six with a perfectly executed euro step from right to left. Lithuania’s Sarunas Marciulionis brought the move to the NBA in the ‘90s. Manu Ginobili made it popular in the 2000’s, Dwayne Wade later perfected it and James Harden is currently reinventing it. He should ask Okundaye how he does it.

Captain Quinn Bayers added to Wakefield’s highlight reel late in the second with a lightning-quick spin and floater and Wakefield took a 34-28 lead into halftime.

Both defenses clamped down in a tense third quarter. Wakefield opened up their largest lead when Okundaye made it 40-31 after a steal and a crossover lead to another bucket.

A Burlington 3 cut it to six but Bayers pushed the lead back to eight with a strong finish. The Red Devils hit back-to-back 3’s to make it 42-40. The Warriors were the better team at this point, but Burlington’s 3-point shooting was too good to go away. Burlington made six field goals in the third quarter. Five of them were from long range.

Olivier reclaimed the lead for first time since the start of the second with a 3 that made it 45-44 but Marcus closed the quarter with a corner 3 to get the lead back 47-45 going into the fourth.

Another Okundaye and-one in the fourth made it 53-48 Wakefield and Bayers made it 55-48. Yet another Red Devil 3, this time from Kyle Inglis made it 55-51. Inglis scored 15 points in the fourth and eight in overtime on his way to 28 for the game.

A wild bounce on an Olivier 3 made it 57-57.

The two teams traded baskets and foul shots late all in front of a chaotic and vehement Burlington crowd. The Red Devils had lost their last game at home on Tuesday to Belmont after a late technical on the Burlington bench led to free throws. That seemed to boil over on Thursday night. Burlington shot 17 free throws in the game to Wakefield’s 25 but the Red Devils rarely took it to the rim like Wakefield did until the fourth and overtime. All of this is to say that the game was evenly officiated throughout and yet the crowd hardly thought so; there was even an ejection from the stands in the fourth.

That’s a tough environment not just for officials to stay unbiased but for an away team who just wanted to play hard. Bayers hit two free throws in that environment to reclaim the lead at 64-62 but Inglis got a hoop and a foul, missing the free throw to ultimately send it to overtime.

The Warriors started strong in OT. Chris Alden (7 points) made it 66-64 and Inglis hit two free throws to tie it.

Alden then connected on a 3 and two Okundaye free throws made it 71-66 with 1:28 left.

An Inglis layup made it 71-68. Okundaye looked like he earned another and-one but it was called on the floor and he missed the front end of a 1-and-1.

Inglis hit two more free throws to make it 71-70 and Okundaye responded with two more from the stripe. Inglis again got a layup to make it 73-72 with 28.6 left. Wakefield threw it away on the ensuing in-bounds and fouled Olivier who hit two.

The Warriors got a good chance on their next possession but couldn’t hit and Olivier made it 76-73 with two more free throws. A late 3-point try from Marcus fell short.

Wakefield dropped their third straight on Saturday, falling on the road to Swampscott 63-52.

The Warriors have one game left, tonight in Reading at 6 p.m.