Billerica Ruins Tewksbury's Senior Night, 69-53Feb 10, 2015 10:49PM ● By Rick Spencer
Junior forward Justin Derrah (42) scored 17 points against Billerica.
If practice makes perfect then it stands to reason that a lack of practice makes less than perfect, and the Tewksbury High boys basketball team proved that theory a dozen times over on Tuesday night.
“I haven’t seen these guys since Friday. We haven't practiced at all," said TMHS head coach Phil Conners after watching his team get humbled by Billerica, 69-54, in the Tony Romano gym. “It was a complete soft effort. We looked like a team that hadn’t practiced in four days. It was embarrassing.”
The Redmen ruined their own senior night by turning in their worst overall performance of what has been a remarkably successful season. Prior to Tuesday, Tewksbury had won 16 of its first 18 games and had been averaging just over 70 points per game while surrendering just over 56. But on this night, Tewksbury produced both its lowest scoring output of the season and its second-highest total of points allowed this year.
“Our margin of error is tiny,” Conners said. “We have to have an absolute want of five guys boxing out and doing everything, and we just didn’t have it. Honestly, I felt like it was summer league the way we came out here tonight.”
The Redmen trailed almost wire-to-wire in this one, as Billerica jumped out to an early 7-2 lead, and was in control for most of the game. Two late baskets by junior guard Nate Tenaglia and junior forward Justin Derrah tied the game at 17-all after one period, but Billerica took control of the offensive boards in the second quarter and grabbed a 35-31 lead at the half.
Billerica’s 6-4 junior forward Josh Bradanese ran off seven straight points in the third quarter to extend the Indians’ lead to 10, but Tewksbury battled back with a three-point field goal by senior guard Alex DiRocco and a traditional three-point play from Tenaglia to close to within six with 30 seconds left in the third.
But the Redmen, who shot 23-for-55 from the field Tuesday, missed an easy lay-up on a three-on-one break with 15 seconds left in the period, then watched as the Indians’ senior guard Jeff Trainor tossed in a 30-foot bomb with two seconds left, restoring Billerica’s lead to nine at 51-43 heading into the fourth quarter.
“It was a terrible way to end that third quarter,” Conners said. “We somehow blow a three-on-one and then we backed up on their best shooter and he bangs a three. All of sudden instead of being down four going into the fourth we’re down nine. It was a massive turn.”
The Redmen made matters worse by shooting an ice cold 2-for-11 from the field in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter, and Billerica just pulled steadily away, extending its lead to 22 points before Tewksbury’s bench scored the final six points in garbage time. Tewksbury connected on just five-of-23 three-point field goal attempts in the game.
“We’re a three-point shooting team, but it’s hard to come back shooting threes.” Conners said. “It’s hard to come back out of a hole when you’re a three-point shooting team. You feel like you have to make every shot. When everyone on your team is six feet (tall) or less, the margin of error is very small.”
Worse, the Redmen grabbed just one offensive rebound in the entire game, so second chances were few and far between, while the opposite was true for the taller Billerica team.
“They must have had 20 offensive rebounds,” Conners said. “We missed every shot we took and we had one offensive rebound. Loose balls were all theirs too. Our margin of error is very small. If we don’t out-tough and out-smart the other team, we will lose to a decent team.”
Perhaps the most unfortunate part of the loss was the fact that this was the final regular season home game for DiRocco, senior forward Joe Csokmay, senior forward Petros Nacopuolos and senior guards Henry Roberts and Derek McGaffigan.
“We have an amazing senior class,” Conners said. “One night doesn’t stamp them. It’s been an amazing turn-around. It was a shame we had to go into senior night coming off four days with no practice. It just shows you how important it is to practice. I wish it had kept snowing.”
Tenaglia finished as Tewksbury’s leading scorer with 18 points while Derrah had 17. DiRocco and junior forward Adam Gajjaoui had six each, while Roberts scored two points and junior forward Sean Moose scored his first points of the season and finished with four.
The only good news is that the Redmen did not have to win this game in order to clinch their second consecutive Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 championship. In spite of the loss, they are now 16-3 overall and 9-3 in MVC games. Either a win at Haverhill on Thursday or at Dracut on Friday would eliminate second-place Billerica and secure the title for Tewksbury.
“We only need one win in our next two games to clinch it,” Conners said. “I just can’t wait to get back into practice tomorrow.”