BOSTON – After missing the first few shots from the parquet floor of the TD Garden, Tuesday afternoon, members of the Watertown boys’ basketball squad got the hoop in their crosshairs and cruised to a 56-36 win over Cardinal Spellman in the Div. 3 state semifinal
The Raiders (19-5) used their swarming defense and a hot hand from behind the three-point arc to book a trip to the MIAA Div. 3 state final in Worcester on Saturday.
The Cardinals (19-5) jumped to a 5-0 lead, but the Raider’s senior leader, Marco Coppola, quickly closed the gap by hitting a layup while being fouled. Despite missing the shot from the line, Coppola grabbed the rebound and scored another two, on the way to a game high 26 points.
“I think we were a little giddy out there (to start the game), maybe a little bit nervous,” Coppola said. “Once we got settled out there we did alright.”
A Tyler Romanelli three pointer helped give the Raiders a 14-9 lead after the first quarter. Watertown stretched the lead to 11 at halftime, as Romanelli, Cory Donohue and Coppola all hit from behind the arc.
The Raiders’ pressure defense began really paying dividends in the third quarter, when they held the Cardinals to six points.
“Defense, it’s all about defense,” Coppola said. “We knew going into the tournament we had to step up on defense, turn it up a notch from the regular season. No team has scored 40 points on us, so we are looking to keep that going.”
Donohue took a blow as he applied defensive pressure, and as in Saturday’s section final against Newburyport, the senior needed some treatment from the trainer.
“I try to get my head in there and cause problems on defense, and I catch an elbow here and there,” Donohue said. “Saturday, I caught an elbow in the head and I was bleeding, so (the trainer) closed it up. (Tonight) I got hit in the nose, but it’s not broken.”
At the same time, Coppola hit his stride and scored 9 in the quarter, including a couple driving layups and a three, which he shot standing on the NBA line as the buzzer sounded. The Raiders scored 20 in the quarter to stake a 47-24 lead.
Donohue and Romanelli also knocked down threes in the third. Watertown made eight from downtown, while Cardinal Spellman hit only one. The deep shots are part of the Raiders’ strategy, said Watertown head coach Steve Harrington, and when they go down they make a big difference.
“Tonight the difference is we separated because we made some shots. We didn’t really Saturday,” Harrington said. “Once we did, it made it kind of difficult for Cardinal Spellman to get back in it.”
The Cardinals outscored Watertown in the final quarter, 14-9, but the game was beyond reach by that point.
Cardinal Spellman head coach Michael Perry said his team faced a veteran team.
“They are a good team a very good team. They have five seniors, and a couple very good players,” Perry said. “That Coppola kid was very good. They knew what they had to do and they did it.”
While the Raiders had experience on the floor of the TD Garden, with the seniors making their third state semifinal, the Cardinals had not made it this far.
“I have nothing but praise for my kids,” Perry said. “The freshman point guard (Ryan Roach) didn’t’ embarrass himself at all tonight. We also have a sophomore, two juniors – there are a lot of kids coming back. The type of experience they got (tonight) is irreplaceable.”
Harrington wanted to make sure Cardinal Spellman’s big man, 6-foot-5 center Joe Glynn, did not inflict too much damage on the Raiders. He scored 28 in the section final against Medway.
“Going into tonight With Joey Glynn there, and their size advantage we really wanted to make it as up tempo as we could and make them work to get it down into the front court,” Harrington said.
Glynn led the Cardinals in scoring, but tallied only 13 points. When he did get the ball in the paint, the Raiders made Glynn earn his points. He fouled several times and scored five points from the free throw line, but he also missed five. The Cardinals shot 11 for 24 from the free throw line.
Watertown plays the winner of the Lenox-Whitinsville Christian game on Saturday at 12:30 p.m at the DCU Center in Worcester. The Raiders are not familiar with either team, but Coppola said they plan to go to Worcester to see them in action this afternoon.