Warriors beat Melrose; move into first in Freedom
Published in the January 8, 2019 edition.
By DAN PAWLOWSKI
WAKEFIELD — Somewhere, beneath all the shooting reps, the Mikan drills and sprints; beyond the X’s and O’s, the zones and picks, there exists basketball in its truest form. It is motion, creativity, connectedness; it’s a game of knock-out at J.J. Round.
Sometimes, even when the stakes are high, it’s best to view basketball like this: You and your buddies against the kids down the street.
“I told the kids before the game,” said Wakefield boys’ basketball head coach Brad Simpson after the Warriors beat Melrose on Friday night, “the object is to go out and have fun. What could be more fun than playing an archrival on a Friday night, in the dead of winter in your own gym?”
The only thing more fun? Winning in that environment.
The Melrose Red Raiders walked into the Charbonneau Field House with a 4-1 record. Wakefield, though sporting a 3-1 league record that was identical to Melrose, was coming off two losses in the Scott DiMella Memorial tournament. The Warriors had second-half leads in both of their tournament games against Reading and O’Bryant, but couldn’t close. On Friday night, Wakefield’s defensive intensity that led to a 24-15 halftime lead was matched in the final two quarters. Throw in a combined 28 points from the O’Keefe brothers and altogether, it led to a 51-40 victory and sole possession of first place in the Freedom Division.
“That was a great win,” said Simpson. “We held Melrose to 15 points in the first half so our defense was very good. Melrose clearly wanted to go to their two big men and the gameplan was, you can do anything else but you can’t go into the big men. It worked for most of the game.”
The Warriors didn’t have a closer’s mentality in their two DiMella Tournament losses. They also didn’t have Billy O’Keefe and Jack Matuszewski. Wakefield’s two tallest players returned to the lineup and along with captain Aidan Cusack and a crisp defensive rotation, the Warriors shut down Red Raider bigs Luka Vlajkovic and Holden Symonds.
“Billy O’Keefe had a great game,” said Simpson.
The senior scored a game-high 17 points including three 3-pointers and committed to holding his ground against Vlajkovic and Symonds on the defensive end.
Matuszewski brought some good old-fashioned Polish power into the paint during his first game of the season. The senior, who only practiced for the first time on Thursday, didn’t take long to find his rhythm. That’s because rhythm for Matuszewski isn’t about how well his jumper is falling. It’s about crashing the boards, being a defensive anchor and making winning plays. In that sense, Matuszewski found his tempo the moment he stepped on the floor and started having fun.
“He gave us about four or five offensive rebounds, one of them he put back himself another one we had a second possession that went down for a three,” said Simpson of Matuszewski. “He didn’t play a lot, he’s still feeling his way but he was a nice addition tonight for a few minutes here and there and will get better as times goes on.”
That second-chance 3 occurred at the start of the third quarter. After battling for the board, Matuszewski kicked it out to Cusack at the top of the key and the captain buried it for a 39-28 lead.
O’Keefe, after getting an assist on a great pass to Pat Hannigan, knocked down a triple to make it 45-30 with five minutes left in the third. The Warriors cruised from there.
While the second-half performance was a nice sign of improvement, it was Wakefield’s work in the first quarter that set the tone. The Warriors, playing defense directly in front of the Red Sea all dressed in black, tallied six blocks in the first quarter alone. Captain Ryan Marcus hit two 3-pointers to start the scoring for Wakefield in a quarter that would end 18-5 Warriors.
Michael O’Keefe, who got to the line with strong drives and had 11 points, was also in his element on the defensive end, gobbling up any driving attempts that resulted from the Warriors denying entry passes into the paint.
To some, basketball is fun because of fast breaks and 3-pointers. You’ll get no arguments here, but that’s not the only thing that translates from the park to the field house. Shutting down your matchup has always been fun. So, it’s no wonder that when Marcus took a charge on Vlajkovic in the second quarter, the third foul for the Melrose captain, the fans went more crazy than they did even after his two 3’s to start the game.
To Marcus, it doesn’t get more fun than taking a charge and completely changing the momentum of a game.
All it did was help his buddies get a win against the kids down the street.
The Warriors host a strong Arlington (4-2) team tonight at 6 p.m. before getting back into Freedom play against Stoneham on Friday night at the Charbonneau Field House.