Tenaglia Sparks Redmen to 62-59 State Tournament Win Over Gloucester
Feb 27, 2015 11:57PM
By Rick Spencer
Tewksbury's Nate Tenaglia (4) scored 17 points to spark the Redmen to a 62-59 state tournament win over Gloucester.
Standing 5-foot-6 and weighing 140 pounds on a good day, Tewksbury High’s Nate Tenaglia is usually the smallest guy on the basketball court.
But no one has stood any taller for the Redmen this season than Tenaglia did Friday night, as the junior guard threw in 11 of his team-high 17 points in the fourth quarter to lead Tewksbury to a tension-filled, hard-fought, 62-59 victory over upset-minded Gloucester High in an MIAA state tournament first round game at the TMHS gym.
“Nate was absolutely huge for us tonight,” said Tewksbury head coach Phil Conners after Tenaglia hit two game-clinching three-pointers and scored his team’s final nine points, helping the third-seeded Redmen hold off the surprisingly resilient 14th-seeded Fishermen in front of the biggest crowd of the season at Tony Romano Court. “He stepped up and made some huge shots down the stretch. He was absolutely awesome. Those were big time shots. “
It was anybody’s game with just three minutes to play in the final period as Gloucester’s John Philpott scored 11 of his game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter to cut an eight-point Tewksbury lead down to a single point at 53-52 with three minutes to play. But Tenaglia took over from there, scoring every one of his team’s final nine points to seal the victory.
“We had 10 days off between games so it was hard to get a rhythm tonight,” Tenaglia said. “But we stepped up in crunch time and hit our shots. Everyone can shoot on our team, I just got the open shots tonight.”
Without a doubt, it was the rusty Tewksbury squad’s shooting woes that kept Gloucester in this game for far longer than anyone expected. TMHS connected on just 20-of-61 field goals (32.7 percent) in the game, and the Redmen were even worse from three-point range, sinking just eight-of-35 attempts from beyond the arc.
“We shot terribly,” Conners said. “The way we attacked their zone (defense) was all wrong. We wouldn’t hit the middle, we wouldn’t look opposite. We wouldn’t make the simple, easy pass, and it hurt us the whole game. They threw something at us we hadn’t seen from them, and we didn’t react to it well and as a result we didn’t shoot it well.”
Fortunately for Tewksbury, junior forwards Adam Gajjaoui (12 points, seven rebounds and four assists) and Justin Derrah (11 points, nine rebounds) both came up with big plays at critical moments throughout the game, and the Redmen never trailed by any more than four points.
Gajjaoui not only held Gloucester’s leading scorer Andrew Muniz to just 10 points on one field goal and seven free throws, but he also produced one of the most exciting moments of the season when threw down a fourth-quarter slam dunk after stealing the ball in his own defensive end and racing the length of the court with it.
“Adam had the best game I’ve ever seen him play,” Conners said. “He held their best kid to 10 points and I was glad to see him get that dunk. It was nice having a great crowd in here and hearing them explode (when Gajjaoui flushed it). I was more impressed with how he got it. He kept that kid in front of him and made a great steal. He’s a freak, athletically. He has no idea how good he could be.”
Gajjaoui was all smiles after the game when asked about his dunk.
“I tried one in the Bedford game and missed, so I wanted to get another shot at it,” Gajjaoui said. “I’m glad it came when it did because we were playing a little bit sloppy up until that point, but after that I think we picked it up.”
Gajjaoui scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half as Tewksbury led 13-12 after one period and ran off seven straight points to finish the second quarter and take a 35-26 halftime lead. But the Redmen hit another polar vortex in the third period and scored only eight points on 4-for-13 shooting, while the Fishermen clawed their way back into the game and tied the score at 43-apiece heading into the fourth quarter.
Fortunately for the home team fans, Gajjaoui and Tenaglia made the big plays down the stretch.
“That was our get out of jail card,” Conners said. “That’s why having a great regular season record (the Redmen went 18-4) is so important. Gloucester is a solid team, but if we had a worse record and got matched up against one of the top teams in the (Division 2 North Sectional) bracket tonight, we could have lost.
“I thought we played well defensively, and we made the plays when we had to to advance,” Conners added.
In addition to his 17 points, Tenaglia added five assists and five rebounds Friday night. Back court mate Alex DiRocco scored 10 points and had three assists and two steals, while senior forward Joe Csokmay had 10 points. Senior swingman Henry Roberts scored three points while senior guard Derek McGaffigan had three points and five rebounds.
Tewksbury now advances to the sectional quarterfinals and will host sixth-seeded Belmont in a 7:00 p.m. game on Monday night on Romano Court. Belmont went 15-7 in the Middlesex League this winter and beat Winchester, 76-70, in a first round state tournament game on Wednesday night.
“They’ve got a real strong big kid,” Conners said. “He’s 6-foot-5 and he can do it all. The only reason they’re a sixth-seed is that they had some kids miss games due to injuries this season. It will be a real test. It could go either way.”