THE WARRIORS celebrate their 52-51 win over Watertown on Friday night after a last-second stop cemented another thrilling win thanks to a late bucket from senior captain Mike Wilkinson (23). Also pictured from left to right is Connor Mauriot, Jackson McDermott and senior captain John Porter. (Brian Cusack Photo)
By TYM BROWN
WATERTOWN — The last two games for Wakefield’s boys’ basketball team have been decided by only two total points, showing that the away game atmosphere is undeniably brutal to adjust to. Picking up two wins with such a narrow margin tells you all you need to know about how tough this team really is. This 52-51 win over the Watertown Raiders on Friday was a thriller from start to finish.
The game started with back-to-back forced turnovers by the Warriors that turned into layups for Michael Wilkinson and Jackson McDermott. Watertown took a timeout to regroup and scored their first bucket of the game with a tough layup from senior Riley Donlan. McDermott responded with a 3-pointer to put his team up 8-2 early.
Wakefield’s defensive pressure was immaculate to start the 1st quarter, but Watertown found a way to fight through it. The Raiders clawed their way back into the game with physical layups that the Warriors truly could not have defended any better. As Wakefield slowed down on offense, turnovers became a problem. Two turnovers at the end of the quarter turned into a made triple and another tough layup from Donlan gave Watertown a 1-point lead to end the 1st quarter of play. Wilkinson kicked off the 2nd with a high-flying layup to put Wakefield back in front. Ethan Margolis then hit a layup on the following possession, sparking an explosion for the Warriors on offense. Margolis and Wilkinson took over, getting involved in every play whether it be an assist, rebound, or basket. The two played with flare and chemistry, flying up and down the floor to lead Wakefield on a 15-2 run to put the visiting team up 27-15.
On one possession of this show-stopping run, Wilkinson flew up the floor after grabbing a defensive rebound and handed the ball of to Margolis. Wilkinson then stealthily made his way around the Watertown defense to find himself open on the right wing for a 3 off an assist from his fellow senior captain. This play only shows a shimmer of the grand explosion of chemistry this Wakefield offense is built on.
The run was cut off by a triple from Johnny Cacace, a senior forward for Watertown, that trimmed the lead back down to single digits. Wilkinson answered with a deep ball of his own and Margolis piled on with a tough finish the next time up the floor. The two teams traded free throws and Wakefield ended the first half with a 33-20 lead, looking primed to run away with this game in the second half.
Watertown came into the 3rd quarter as a new team, looking determined to make a statement against the Warriors. The home team scored 10 straight points, cutting the Wakefield lead down to three thanks to a crafty reverse layup from Gevork Kapetyan. Throughout this run, Wakefield played sloppy with turnover and fouls, but most notably De’Ari Burton picked up his third and fourth fouls with two and a half minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Burton was a defensive force this game as he picked up five steals and played lockdown defense on the perimeter, but was now limited because of his foul situation.
Declan O’Callahan subbed into the game for Burton and immediately helped to get the Warriors rolling again. The junior guard found Wilkinson alone in the paint to get Wakefield back on the board and stop the Watertown run.
Both squads struggled to get an edge on the other with all around intense defense being played. The quarter ended with Margolis and Donlan hitting layups for their respective teams and the Wakefield lead depleted down to one point.
Wikinson opened the final quarter with a layup, controlling the paint as he had all night. Ben Kullman hit a shot from beyond the arc to tie the game with four minutes to go. Donlan followed that up with another perimeter shot to give Watertown their first lead of the game with three minutes left.
Wakefield quickly responded with a huge 3-pointer from Margolis at the top of the key to tie the game at 45-45. Watertown quickly got a layup on the other end, but fell apart on the defensive end as they fouled McDermott in the act of shooting. McDermott missed his first at the line, but hit the second. Kullman then leisurely took the ball up floor and had the ball ripped away by Burton. Burton shoveled the ball up to McDermott who drew another shooting foul. The junior forward split his free throw attempts once again, tying the game with two minutes left.
The Raiders raced down the floor once again and hit another triple, this time from Kapetyan on the right wing. Wakefield came up empty on their next possession and took a timeout down by three with less than a minute to go.
Out of the timeout, McDermott missed a physical layup and Watertown recovered the rebound. Kullman and Donlan met near half court for a simple hand-off play, but Margolis split the two and took the ball coast-to-coast to cut the Raider lead down to a single point once again.
Needing to conserve time, Burton purposely fouled with 24 seconds left which was his fifth. Margolis then took the next foul to put Watertown in the bonus. Donlan split his free throws for Watertown and Margolis charged up the floor with the rebound. The captain was fouled and given two shots at the line to potentially tie the game. He missed the first and hit the second, then fouled Donlan once again off the inbound. This was Margolis’ fifth foul meaning both he and Burton would sit out the final 18 seconds of the game.
Donlan missed the first free throw and Wilkinson grabbed the board. The game’s leading scorer darted from end to end and put a soft touch off glass to get the go-ahead layup through multiple defenders. With just 12 seconds left now and the clock running, Kullman pushed the pace up the floor for Watertown and found Donlan on the baseline who put up a floater with five seconds to go that spiked off the rim. The rebound remained loose until the buzzer sounded and the Warriors escaped.
Wilkinson’s second game-winner came just three days after his buzzer-beater led to a 45-44 win over Reading.
When asked about the team’s trust in him in these dire situations, Wilkinson said, “When it’s that time, everyone trusts each other and we do what we gotta do to win the game.”
Regarding the fact that both his game winners have come in road games, the senior captain stated, “I love being the villain, I embrace it every time.”
This combination of trust and a cold-blooded mentality truly speaks to what this Wakefield team is all about, collecting wins by any means necessary.
Wilkinson ended the game with 21 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists to lead his team in this win. Margolis added 16 points and 11 rebounds of his own for another double-double. Jackson McDermott put up a season-high 9 points as the third-highest scorer for the Warriors along with 3 steals and 2 blocks on the defensive end. With Wakefield playing their best basketball of the season, they will look to collect their 10th straight win in Wilmington against the winless Wildcats today at 4:30 p.m. in Wilmington. In their previous matchup, the Warriors won 70-41 at home.