The following is the third in a series of blog posts about English High’s basketball team and the school’s efforts to hold their athletes to higher academic standards. The posts are a follow up to the Boston Globe Magazine story I wrote about the school increasing its eligibility threshold for athletes to a district-high 2.5 GPA.

By Justin A. Rice

ROXBURY — During Christmas vacation it was hard for Bryanne Toney not to think about the buzzer-beating shot Dorchester High hit to defeat English High in their final game before the holiday break.

“It stays on your mind like crazy,” said the English power forward who scored 22 points in the loss, “Cause yeah you’re like ‘If I would’ve done this, this would happen, if I  would’ve done this, this would happen.

“But in a game you wouldn’t regularly do it because it’s not like a muscle reflex. So you’ll see it [during the game] but in the end of the game you’ll go over it in your head and be like ‘Dang I could’ve done that that, that, and that and we would’ve won.”

But after Toney hit a free throw to put English up by a point with seconds remaining on Dec. 21, Dorchester went coast to coast and nailed a floating runner to give the Bears the one-point victory.

“That was heart breaking,” says Toney, who was finally able to get the loss off his mind by helping English defeat O’Bryant, 74-62, in their first game back from the holiday break on Friday. “[I didn’t let the loss ruin my holiday] because I have my family. But there was certain times when I was about to go to sleep [I thought about it] or I’d hear a buzz on my alarm clock and I was like ‘Dang.’”

English was rusty coming into Friday’s O’Bryant game after going two weeks without a game. But they managed to take a 41-32 halftime lead.

At halftime, English Coach Barry Robinson called Toney’s number, telling his team that their best shot to beat O’Bryant’s zone was to pass the ball into the forward in the middle as he parked himself on the free throw line.

“He was basically playing the plays through me,” Toney said after scoring the game-high 23-points. “I was just thinking ‘I have to make shots, go to the bucket, get fouls and convert free throws.”

But the Tigers opened the half with an 8-2 run to trail 42-40 before English finally fed the ball into Toney on the elbow, where he drained a jumper. The game remained tight the rest of the third quarter until English’s senior forward Wiley Shipman knocked O’Bryant junior guard Harry Demosthene to the ground at half court, snagged the ball and went in for an uncontested layup. The no call from the refs gave English a 52-51 edge with 34 seconds left in the quarter.

“Yeah I know I did [get away with the foul] but that’s the mentality we have to have,” Shipman said. “Especially coming into someone else’s house. It was packed here today. They were trying to intimidate us, calling out our names when we were at the free throw line. We just couldn’t let that get to us and we had to play way tougher.”

Shipman, who finished the game with 19 points, opened the fourth quarter with another bucket to put English up 54-51. Driving the lane before taking flight, Shipman bumped chests with a defender in the midair before creating separation and knocking down a tear drop layup.

Toney and Shipman scored back-to-back baskets to give English the 61-53 edge before O’Bryant came back on a 6-2 run to cut the game to 63-58.

English went 9-for-11 from the free throw line in the final 3:29 to secure the victory and improve its record to 3-2.

“We were a little bit rusty today but think about this if we had all of our parts working, all 11 guys working, we would’ve been better off but when things got tight we learned some lessons today didn’t we,” Robinson told his team after the game. “It wasn’t what we wanted. We wanted to be in the 80s but that’s okay. We are going to get there with the system that we have, we’re going to get into the 80s.”

But the real work was just beginning for English, and not just because they play traditional state power New Bedford tonight (Jan. 9). With about two weeks to go in the marking period, about three players are in serious danger of becoming academically ineligible.

The players spent all day Saturday in the school library doing homework and starting tomorrow will have a 6:30 a.m. study hall every day before school.

“We are the real scholar athletes with a 2.5 GPA,” English High Headmaster Dr. Sito Narcisse told the players in the huddle after the game. “Congratulations and keep up the good work.”


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