Chelmsford Upsets TMHS Boys Basketball Team, 67-61Jan 22, 2016 11:13PM ● By Rick Spencer
Adam Gajjaoui (23) battles his way to the hoop in Tewksbury's 67-61 loss to Chelmsford.
On a night when they could have put a stranglehold on first place in the Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 standings, the Tewksbury High Redmen came out flat and let one slip away, losing 67-61 to Chelmsford High Friday evening at Tony Romano Court.
The unexpected loss was the first home defeat of the season and second loss in four days for the Redmen, who fell to 8-3 overall, 5-3 in MVC play.
Considering the fact that Tewksbury had swept Chelmsford in the home-and-home series between the two schools last year, and had beaten the Lions, 87-71, in Chelmsford back in December, TMHS head coach Phil Conners was more than a little bit frustrated with his team after the game.
“The way we attacked their zone (defense) was terrible and our defense struggled too,” Conners said. “There’s no play to attack the zone, it’s an intelligence, a basketball IQ, and we just didn’t do it. We took terrible shots. We didn’t move the ball. Everyone just did their own thing.”
Compounding Conners’ frustrations was the fact that his team had appeared to have hit its stride 10 days ago when the Redmen trounced perennial MVC Division 1 powerhouse Andover High, 82-59, on this very same court. That win had moved Tewksbury up to 15th position in the latest ESPN-Boston poll of the Top 25 high school basketball teams in the state.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” Conners said. “You do all the right things against Andover, you move it the right way, you share it, everything’s good. And you come back with this and…it’s frustrating.”
The Redmen started the night looking like they were on their way to an easy win when a 10-0 first quarter run gave them a 13-5 advantage with two minutes left in the opening period. Senior guard Ryan Briggs, who led all scorers with 19 points on Friday, had eight points in the first quarter.
But Chelmsford was dominant under its own basket, grabbing numerous offensive rebounds and scoring a half dozen second-chance baskets to keep TMHS within reach throughout the first half. TMHS senior guard Nate Tenaglia, who had 18 points in the game, scored 11 points in the second quarter as Tewksbury grinded its way to a 31-25 halftime lead.
The Redmen were in position to put this one in the win column when they scored four quick baskets in the first two minutes of the third quarter, to push their lead to 11 at 40-29. But for some reason, the TMHS offense ran out of gas at that point. The Redmen were good for only 21 more points over the final 14 minutes of play, and Chelmsford systematically clawed its way back and took the lead.
The Lions outscored the Redmen, 22-15 in the third period, and scored the final nine points of the quarter to take a 47-46 lead going into the fourth.
“They went right through us in the third quarter,” Conners said. “They didn’t run any plays. They took the ball at the top dribbled straight to the bottom of the paint and went straight through us. It was awful.”
As its offense continued to sputter TMHS found itself in deep foul trouble in the fourth quarter, and Chelmsford sealed its upset victory by hitting all 14 of its free throw attempts in the final period.
Senior forward Adam Gajjaoui and sophomore guard Gio Ciampa scored eight points each in the losing effort, while senior forward Justin Derrah added six points and senior forward Sean Moose had two.
The win improves Chelmsford’s MVC record to 4-5 and suddenly moves the Lions into second place in the MVC’s Division 2 standings behind the 5-3 Redmen. Billerica, which was idle Friday night, sits in third place at 3-4 in league play.
TMHS hosts Haverhill High on Tuesday night, in what now looms as a critical MVC Division 2 match-up. And Conners is worried about his team’s mindset heading into that game.
“We don’t have good team chemistry right now,” Conners said. “Chemistry comes from the kids. They’ve got to take some ownership. They need to look within themselves because chemistry comes from the players and we lack it right now.”