Beat Watertown 49-47

By DAN PAWLOWSKI

WATERTOWN — If anything, the Wakefield High boys’ basketball team proved they’re going to be tough to beat.

Behind the work of senior captain Quinn Bayers (15 points) and junior Brett Okundaye (14), the Warriors held on to a slim lead throughout the 4th quarter and came up with a defensive stop on the last possession of the game to get out of town with a hard-earned 49-47 victory.

Senior captain Ryan Marcus (10 points) fouled out with just over three minutes to play with Wakefield nursing a 45-42 lead. Watertown, who hit four of their 10 3-pointers in the final quarter, tied it up off a triple from Sean Williams.

During a tense two minutes to the final horn, Wakefield turned to Bayers who scored 9 second-half points while also getting his teammates involved with three assists.

“Quinn was the glue that kept us together tonight,” said Wakefield head coach Brad Simpson.

Okundaye, who scored all of his points in the second half, including 10 in the third quarter, continued his strong finishes at the rim by converting on an alley-oop off a nice pass from junior Chris Alden. Okundaye fouled out soon after and Watertown cut it to 49-47 with 55 seconds left after two Williams free throws. Wakefield couldn’t convert on their next possession but they ran the clock down. The Warriors caught a break when the Raiders missed a wide open layup in transition and with 6.3 seconds left on the clock Watertown boss and Wakefield High Hall of Famer Steve Harrington called a timeout against his high school coach.

Rather than feed scorers like Devon Breen (10 points) or Gevert Korpoetyan (12), Harrington went to the hot hand in Williams (5 points) giving him an isolation opportunity to tie the game on the right wing. It was a decision partly made because Harrington thought the big man might be a matchup problem with Wakefield’s big men. Rather than giving an excellent on-ball defender like Bayers a chance to win the game on defense, the Raiders went after an unproven Paul Holman. The junior responded by staying in front of Williams and closing out perfectly on a long-range two that never had a chance of going in as the clock expired.

“Paul Holman and Chris Alden I thought especially stood out,” said Simpson. “They came off the bench and played big minutes because of foul trouble and they played, not spectacular but just solid – they’ll get you some rebounds and take care of the ball.”

It took about four minutes for both teams to shake the cobwebs off in the first quarter. Marcus got the first five points of the season on an easy crossover and layup and later on 3-pointer from the right wing.

A strong drive and finish after a jump stop by Bayers tied the game at 7-7 late in the first. Wakefield finished the quarter on a 7-0 run when Alden got fouled just before the buzzer and hit both free throws to give his team a 9-7 lead.

Both coaches employed similar zone defenses that worked to varying degrees.

On the Wakefield side, senior Pat Collins was the key, roving the back line of a 1-3-1 and reading the play much like he did as a center back during his just-completed soccer season in which he was named to the Middlesex League All-Conference team.

“I can’t say enough about Pat Collins,” said Simpson. “I don’t know if he scored but with our matchup zone defense he’s the quarterback, which is what he did in soccer. I told him, you have to talk and anticipate. He was flying from corner to corner all game. He’s one of those guys you want on your team because you knew they’re never going to be out of position.”

Collins flew from the right corner to the left, set his feet and drew a charge on Breen in the second quarter, forcing the Watertown star out of the game for the rest of the half with three fouls.

“That doesn’t show up in the box score,” said Simpson.

On the other end and trailing 12-11, the Warriors needed a big to start demanding the ball around the elbows against Watertown’s zone that focused more on taking away wing 3-pointers than paint touches. Holman stepped up, calling for the ball just inside the free throw line and finishing in tight to reclaim the lead.

That seemed to give Wakefield’s shooters an extra inch of space which is all Marcus and Bayers needed in the second quarter. Marcus hit one from the right wing and Bayers hit a long, step-back 2 from the left side to give the Warriors a 20-15 lead, again closing the quarter on a 7-0 run.

The third quarter was the Brett O. Show. The junior proved he will be a great combination with Marcus as the two will switch between shooting guard and small forward. Okundaye was a freight train who Watertown couldn’t dream of slowing down during his 10-point third quarter. His second bucket through traffic gave Wakefield a 25-24 lead and Bayers later found him on another alley-oop type play. The junior then picked up a steal and easy layup to make it 29-24.

After a Watertown bucket, Okundaye again drove through multiple Raiders and layed it in for a 31-26 lead. He should have had three more on an and-one but was called for a questionable charge. Either way, the tone was set as the Warriors took a 34-29 lead into the final quarter.

Watertown’s 4th quarter 3-point barrage started early with Breen. After Alden hit a 3 from the corner, Brennan Cook responded from deep to give the home team a 39-37 lead. Holman stepped up again, converting an and-one to take the lead but another Breen 3 made it 42-40 Watertown.

After two Bayers free throws evened it up at 42, the Warriors showed man defense, forcing a Harrington timeout. But Simpson pulled the chair out from his former player, switching to a new-look 2-3 that the Raiders certainly weren’t expecting. Wakefield forced a miss and Bayers went to the line again. The senior, who went 3-of-6 from the line in the final quarter, hit the first, creating the 15th and final lead change of the night,  but missed the second. Battling under the glass was Okundaye, who ripped it down and finished through a foul, sending Wakefield’s entire bench into a “strong man” pose.

Okundaye missed the free throw but the three-point lead and a little defense and resiliency was all Wakefield needed for a big win on opening night.

The Warriors travel to Reading tomorrow night at 6 p.m. The two teams met three times last year. Reading won the rubber match 56-53 in the first round of the Div. 2 North Tournament.