By Justin A. Rice
ROXBURY— Watching college basketball a few nights before the City of Boston League Championships, New Mission High girls basketball coach Greg Berry devised a scheme to shut down his former player, Khadijah Ellison.
Regarded as one of the best players in Eastern Mass., Ellison transferred from New Mission to the Burke her sophomore season and also played AAU for Berry.
Ellison finished with 15 points and failed to score a single point in the second quarter in the 59-32 loss on Friday night as New Mission (16-3) won its second straight city title.
“What it is a modified version of what I saw in a couple of college basketball games the other night,” Berry said of the defense used to beat Burke (14-5). “I said ‘Let’s try something.’ All it really was was a 3-2 [zone] but when she gets over half we sent the first person over and any time she gets into any corner you send another person and get someone else to beat you. And that’s what we wanted to do tonight, we wanted to make someone other than Khadijah beat us.”
But after one quarter it looked like his plan wasn’t working as Ellison netted all eight of Burke’s points. And while the game looked like it would be a shootout between Ellison and her friend, Niesha Kelley–who scored nine of New Mission’s 11 points in the opening quarter–Berry kept faith in his game plan.
“I was a little nervous,” Berry admitted. “Then I said ‘Wait a minute.’ The coaching staff got together and we said ‘We think this works. And I really thought it worked too so we stayed in it.
“It took a while to settle into it. What I did was I took one of my sophomores who normally doesn’t start [Melzina James]. She did a good job Wednesday against Latin Academy. I had her come in and do it again. I said this time it’s going to be different. You’re going to have help.”
The help came in the form of Kelley, who after finishing with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists, said she wasn’t worried about Ellison beating them.
“I didn’t get nervous at all,” said Kelley, who took home tournament MVP honors. “That’s my whole thing, I couldn’t get nervous and we had to continue to play defense. She’s full of hey but look at the score. That was our key, lock her down and get up and down the floor. We weren’t worried about her scoring at all.”
The Bulldogs only basket in the second stanza came when Adrienne Martin scored with 18 seconds left.
“Man listen, I don’t even know what to say about that,” Ellison said of the second quarter scoring drought. “We were getting in and we were trying to put up buckets but they were giving us a little bit too much contact and we couldn’t finish.”
But while the junior guard said playing her old team was “all business” her coach, John Rice, knew better.
“She was just not there mentally, they didn’t shut her down she can only stop herself,” Rice said of Ellison, who also had 11 rebounds and 7 steals. “I think the mental component for her, playing against her old team, and trying to get over that hurdle–taking it all in today, considering it was the city championships, and for all the marbles–she just didn’t play her whole game offensively.
“But I thought she played hard. She went after lose balls, defended well, rebounded and still handled the ball for us and got us through the game.”
The game was also hard to swallow for Rice, who going into the game was 27-0 in the city championships.
“To even win on this type of stage against a guy who never lost on this stage, I’m honored,” said Berry, who is in his second season leading the Titans. “I really didn’t know what was going to happen but hopefully [Rice] feels like the torch has been passed to the right person.”
But even though Berry wasn’t sure what would happen, he still had confidence in his newly implemented defense.
“Usually when we play open gym with [Ellison] we send two or three people at her and that’s what we did but in a little type defensive scheme and it worked,” he said. “We were able in the second half to turn it up defensively and continue to frustrate her and she’ll stop playing.
“I knew in the middle of the third quarter when she started throwing anything up that she stopped played. And the girls did as well and that’s when we turned it up.”
Now both teams turn their attention to the state tournament, where Burke, the No. 2 seed in the Division 3 South bracket, will play No. 15-seed Canton on Monday night at home. Ellison isn’t worried about having a hangover from Friday’s loss.
“Once the buzzer goes off we cheer everybody up and we’re good to go,” she said.
New Mission, the third-ranked team in the Division 4 North bracket will play either Georgetown or Maimonides.
“We lost to them last year,” Kelley said of Georgetown. “I’m excited to [possibly] play them and we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. I’m excited, I’m really excited but now that we won we have to forget about it and get ready for states. I’m going to enjoy this until tomorrow and then forget about it.”