By Justin A. Rice
ROXBURY — Madison Park busted New Mission’s near monopoly on city bragging rights on Friday night at Madison Park High.
After the Titans’ defeated J.E. Burke in the finals of the girls’ Boston City League Championships [see next entry for coverage], the New Mission boys’ were unable to keep their end of the bargain—forced to watch through bleary eyes as the Cardinals hoisted the trophy the Titans thought had their name on it.
Only one team was called Titans but it was truly a clash of top-ranked teams as Madison Park (16-1) held off New Mission’s furious comeback down the stretch to hold onto the the 66-59 victory.
“That’s the character of this team, they have the heart of lions and their warriors even though they’re Cardinals and they refuse to lose,” Madison Park coach Dennis Wilson said after his second straight city title and fourth overall. “Everybody at some point in time did something to make this happen. That’s why this team is great.
“I want this for them; I’ll be here another 50 years so I don’t need anything.”
Top-ranked Madison Park controlled second-ranked New Mission (19-2) in the post, where senior center David Campbell scored a game-high 25 points, including 17 in the second-half, to earn tournament MVP honors.
“It really boosts us, we feel like we are the best,” said Campbell, whose No. 1 seeded team in the Division 1 South bracket will begin state tournament play on Wednesday at home against either Barnstable or Durfee. “It’s going to be really good for us. We’re real happy, real happy.”
Like Wilson, New Mission coach Cory McCarthy came into the tournament saying he puts more emphasis on states and the city tournament is for player pride. But McCarthy left Madison Park’s gym on Friday night unsure if the loss would plague his team the remainder of the post season, even though the Division 4 team is unlikely to face anyone tougher than Madison Park when they begin their quest for their first state title on Saturday at the Reggie Lewis Center. The No. 1-seeded team in the Division 4 North bracket will play the winner of Trinity Catholic and St. Mary’s.
“We probably won’t [face anybody better than MP] but guess what, every time you lose, well coached teams see how you lost so you have to improve. So we just have to improve and we will improve. That’s just the nature of our school. It’s the nature of our school and of our kids. We will improve and we will be in the state tournament.
“The city tournament is for our guys. The state tournament is for our school.”
New Mission 6-foot-8-inch senior center Ousmane Drame said it’s dangerous to acknowledge that the rest of their opponents won’t hold a candle to the Cardinals.
“We don’t know now because we thought we were better than them, we always thought we were better than them, we still think we’re better than them,” Drame said. “Us losing to them is disappointing. There’s probably aren’t any better teams in the states than them but if we don’t come ready we might lose. That’s why we lost to them. I guess we just got to get prepared.
“We always thought we were better than them because of what we did to them in preseason. I guess they’re the better team. Regardless, we can’t underestimate anybody in states. We gotta make sure we treat every team like them or better than them to make sure we don’t lose. If we think the team we’re playing is better than Madison Park we might play harder and that might lead us to victory. We just gotta think like that.”
Madison Park made it a point to attack Drame on Friday night, putting the big man into early foul trouble and clearing a path for their own big man, Campbell.
Madison Park trailed 37-36 halfway through the third quarter when last year’s tournament MVP, senior guard Spencer Braithwaite, fed Campbell in the low post for the first eight points of an 11-0 run. The run was capped by Braithwaite’s 3-pointer from the corner with 17 seconds left in the third quarter to put MP up 47-37.
“We came out in the second half and went inside to DC a couple of times and he was hot,” said Braithwaite, who scored 15 points and added 11 assists. “We knew we had to ride him from there, so we kept looking down low.”
The Titans still fought back, cutting the lead to 58-53 with 2:53 to play with a 3-pointer off the hands of senior guard Osmel Odena (17 points), who literally pushed New Mission through to the championship bout by downing East Boston a night earlier with a buzzer beater.
A two-handed jam by New Mission’s Kachi Nzerem made the score 62-59 with 47 seconds to play and the Titans had an opportunity to make it a one-point game when junior guard Charles Gunter rebounded a miss and went coast-to-coast only to miss what looked like would be another emphatic dunk. Drame missed the tip in and Jamal McCollum pulled down the rebound for the Cardinals.
McCollum’s outlet pass found Braithwaite, who in turn found Campbell in stride for the game-clinching layup.
“Sometimes we do that,” Campbell said of letting New Mission back into the game. “But this team, we really pulled it off. I just try to score. I knew I had to be a big player.”
Afterward, Drame, who finished with 10 points and 17 rebounds, beat himself up for not being a bigger player.
“I had four fouls so I had to make sure I didn’t foul out and everybody else couldn’t keep track of [Campbell],” Drame said. “It’s kind of hard because basically it’s my job to stop him but I really couldn’t do anything because I had too many fouls.
“If I would’ve never had four fouls this would’ve never happened. I think it’s definitely a big reason why we lost. Hopefully I can make up for it in the states.”