Redmen Top Wilmington, 71-53 In K of C Tournament Championship GameDec 28, 2014 11:50PM ● By Rick Spencer
Joe Csokmay (35) and Justin Derrah (42) defend Wilmington's 6-foot-9 center Connor Bennett
For the Wilmington High Wildcats, it was a strategy that made sense. Shut down the talented back court tandem of Alex DiRocco and Nate Tenaglia and you should be able to hold the Tewksbury High basketball team’s high-powered offense in check.
Only someone forgot to tell Joe Csokmay and Adam Gajjaoui about the plan.
Csokmay, a senior, and Gajjaoui, a junior, each posted career high scoring totals and combined for 40 points between them, sparking the undefeated Redmen to a 71-53 victory over their neighboring rivals in the championship game of the Wilmington Knights of Columbus Larry McGrath Holiday Basketball Tournament Sunday night in Tewksbury.
Csokmay, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, tossed in 21 points while grabbing 13 rebounds. He added five steals, three assists and a block to his best all-around effort of the season. Gajjaoui scored 19 points while leading all rebounders with a season’s-best 16. He added four assists and a steal.
Wilmington put high pressure on both Tenaglia and DiRocco from the opening tap, denying the ball and clogging the lane, holding each to season-low totals of six points. But the strategy back-fired.
“They (DiRocco and Tenaglia) have been really killing it so far, so we knew that at some point other teams were going to realize they were the two main guys,” Csokmay said afterward. “So we just needed to have guys step up, and we know we have guys who can step up.”
“I thought Joe was awesome and I thought Adam played really well too,” said TMHS head coach Phil Conners “It was huge, because we need to be five guys, five viable threats. Most high school teams have two or three (scoring threats), but we’ve got five. And I thought those two kids (Csokmay and Gajjaoui) stepped up huge for us tonight.”
Gajjaoui got Tewksbury off to a fast start in this game, scoring seven early points and combining with junior forward Justin Derrah (nine first quarter points) to spark the Redmen to a 23-14 first quarter lead.
TMHS cooled off considerably in the second period, but the Tewksbury defense held Wilmington’s 6-9 senior center Connor Bennett in check, and the Redmen led 37-21 at halftime.
Bennett, who came into the tournament averaging 24 points and a dozen rebounds, finished with 19 points, but only seven of those came in the first half. Csokmay, Gajjaoui and Derrah, who all stand just 6-feet-0, swarmed all over Bennett like a colony of ants on a dropped lollipop, and refused to let the Wildcat big man dominate the game.
“We knew that Wilmington goes through Bennett so we knew we had to play defense and we knew we had to give back side help,” Csokmay said. “We knew if we locked him down we had a pretty good chance to win the game.”
“I thought we defended the big kid (Bennett) really well,” Conners said. “I thought Justin Derrah did a great job of front and back-side help, and I just thought we did a really good job defensively. That’s what won us the game, because we did not shoot the ball well.”
As has been the case in two or three other games this season, the Redmen went through several prolonged periods of ice cold shooting. TMHS connected on only 11-of-48 three point attempts, allowing Wilmington to hang within striking distance for much of the game.
“Six-and-0 is good, but we still have to shoot better,” Conners said. “They played a defense that dared us to shoot, and we’re not ever going to be scared to shoot, but we shot it bad.”
Derrah finished with 12 points and sixth man Henry Roberts added five as the Redmen broke the 70-point barrier for the fifth time this season. In the final analysis, though, Tewksbury’s defensive effort was the deciding factor.
“We’re going to face defenses that try to take away our best guys,” Conners said. “But we’re five guys, so, whatever they do on defense, as long as we’re solid defensively it doesn’t really matter.”
It was a bench-mark victory for TMHS, which had suffered disappointing defeats in this tournament over the past two years.
“We wanted this one really bad, because we kind of blew it over the past two years,” Csokmay said. “I’m really proud of my teammates for stepping up and winning this.”
The win left Conners looking forward to a tough stretch of the team’s Merrimack Valley Conference schedule, which resumes with an important test at Billerica on Friday night.
“We’ve been winning by 18 or 19 points and we haven’t shot the ball well,” Conners said. “If we could ever get all five guys going at once, we could be tough. I’m looking forward to seeing how we do against some of these tougher (MVC) teams.”