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Redmen Rally Past Billerica For 7th Straight Win

Jan 02, 2015 11:30PM ● Published by Rick Spencer

Nate Tenaglia (4) scored 26 points to lead Tewksbury to a 69-54 win over Billerica Friday night.

Gallery: Tewksbury at Billerica [6 Images] Click any image to expand.

Anyone who knows sports will tell you that good teams win big games at home, but great teams win big games on the road.

So crank up the superlatives for the undefeated Tewksbury High boys’ basketball team, which went into Billerica High’s nasty little band-box of a gymnasium Friday night and handed the previously unbeaten Indians their first loss of the season by a very convincing score of 69-54.

Junior guard Nate Tenaglia tossed in 26 points and junior forward Justin Derrah had his best all-around game as a Redman with 18 points and 11 rebounds, as Tewksbury improved its 2014-2015 record to a flawless 7-0 with what was clearly its most impressive win to date.

“We had the look of a good team tonight,” said TMHS head coach Phil Conners. “In the past, teams would make a run at us like (Billerica) did tonight and we’d collapse and we’d lose. But tonight they made a run at us in the third quarter and we came back and played great in the fourth quarter and won by 15. That’s the sign of a good team. That’s the sign of a mature team.”

As has been and will be the case all season, the Redmen gave away a mountain of height to the Billerica front line, which features one of the top players in the Merrimack Valley Conference in 6-4 junior forward Josh Bradanese. But Derrah, junior forward Adam Gajjaoui and senior forward Joe Csokmay, none of whom stands taller than 6-0,  simply outworked the Billerica big men and refused to give the Indians any advantage under the basket.

Gajjaoui drew the initial assignment of covering Bradanese, but picked up two early fouls and had to pass that responsibility off to Derrah. Life only got tougher for the Billerica center after that, as Derrah held Bradanese to 11 points and nine rebounds.

“We knew Bradanese was capable of hurting us, but I thought Justin did an amazing job on him the entire night,” Conners said. “That’s what high school basketball is all about. Stop their best guy and you usually win. He (Bradanese) got 11 points. I’ll take that any night. I would have taken the defensive effort that Justin gave us with no offense and been happy with him. But then he gave us 18 on top of that. That was (Derrah’s) best game since we’ve had him.”

Tewksbury started slow in this game and trailed 10-3 halfway through the first quarter, but Conners called time out and, in a few short sentences, explained a few things to his team loudly enough that most everyone in the gym got the message.

It worked to motivate all the Redmen, who went on to play the most intense three quarters of basketball they’ve put together all season. But none took Conners’ advice to heart more than Tenaglia, who went out and tossed in 11 of Tewksbury’s next 14 points. Tenaglia’s buzzer-beating drive for a lay-up pulled the two teams even at 17-17 after one period.

Derrah (six points) and senior guard Alex DiRocco (seven points) then got the TMHS transition game cranked up in the second quarter and a strong defensive effort (Billerica’s forwards scored just two points in the quarter) helped the Redmen take a 36-28 halftime lead.

Billerica charged back in the third quarter as an 11-0 run helped pull the Indians even at 43 apiece with three minutes left in the period. But Tewksbury refused to fold under the noisy pressure of Billerica’s home crowd, and Derrah swished a three-point field goal at the buzzer to give the Redmen a 49-45 lead heading into the final period.

Tenaglia stepped up and took charge of the game in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 of his 26, while Derrah and DiRocco also buried timely three-pointers. Defensively, Tewksbury held Billerica to just three points over the final 5:07 of the game and just seven points in the fourth period, and the Redmen built steadily on their lead and secured the win.

For Tenaglia, who had 33 points against Chelmsford earlier this season, it wasn’t his highest scoring effort of the season, but his points have rarely come at more critical moments than they did last night.

“That’s Nate,” Conners said. “He wants the ball and he’s practically un-guardable when he gets it. You can’t stay in front of him, and he’s a knockdown shooter. He works his butt off on defense. He’s the hardest worker in practice, he’s the hardest worker year-round because he just lives in the gym. He’s a 5-7 basketball player who will play in college because of how hard he works.”

DiRocco finished with 10 points, Gajjaoui had seven, Csokmay had five and Henry Roberts added three as the Redmen, now 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the Merrimack Valley Conference, proved once again why both the Boston Globe and ESPN-Boston have them ranked 16th in the state.

None of which surprises Conners.

“I thought all along we could do this,” Conners said. “We didn’t have many losses on the schedule when we looked at it in pre-season. I knew we were capable. I figured we could win every game on the schedule.  There’s some we could lose, but there’s no one we can’t beat. Our goal is to win the MVC, the whole thing. We can play with the small; we can play with the large. I don’t think there’s anybody in this league we can’t play with.”

The Redmen will be put to their biggest test of the year on Tuesday, when they host perennial MVC super power Central Catholic High School. Central, which advanced all the way to the Division 1 state championship game last year, is off to a surprisingly slow 2-5 start after losing to North Andover 69-63 on Friday.

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