After taking a 24-7 lead following one quarter of play Tuesday night, it appeared the Nantucket boys basketball team was on their way to an easy home win over a 3-0 Barnstable Red Hawk team. But Barnstable battled back admirably as the game went on and made Nantucket earn a hard-fought 59-56 win, which improved the Whaler’s record to 2-2 this season.
"We really couldn't go 1-3 going into that Christmas tournament (December 27 at Milford High School). That's going to be tough for us so to get back to 2-2 and just continue to try to make strides and get better every day, the talents in the gym. It's just a matter of getting them to come together,” Nantucket head coach Willis Ferreira said. “I thought it would come together a little quicker than it has so far, and I mean not all the way together but I thought we would gel a little bit better. We are still a little selfish or everyone kind of wants to make a play. It's hard because you got four guys out there that really want to score and can score.”
“I got to earn my keep and I got to do a better job (coaching), but that was a good win for us.”
Nantucket jumped out to a 14-2 lead five minutes into the game and played their best offensive basketball of the season. Their crisp passing, solid finish at the rim, and focus on getting the ball down low on the block to senior center/captain Jack Halik was rewarded handsomely with a 17-point lead entering the second quarter. Halik had 16 points in the opening frame.
"(The ball) went to where it belonged and then the guy that it went to actually put the ball in the basket. (Halik's) got to be able to do that in the second half for us, but I thought we tried to get it there and he responded and made plays,” Ferreira said. “I thought defensively, again, we've been pretty good at times. On the Vineyard (Sunday afternoon, 58-47 loss) I thought we were good but they made really good shots. I thought today we were better. We got hands in people's faces. They made a couple of threes there.”
The second quarter was much more even, but the Whalers still managed to lead 40-21 going into halftime despite Halik playing just two and a half of the quarter’s eight minutes.Nantucket got some solid bench minutes from sophomore big man Ethan Jarrett while Halik took a breather.
Senior point guard/captain Carlos Aguilar manned the point well and moved the ball with the poise and confidence expected of him entering the season. Senior forward/captain Jayquan Francis continues to show major strides as a leader on the team and made some key plays throughout the night to set up teammates for easy baskets while making some defensive stops at the opposite end.
But once the second half began, the Red Hawks came out with a different energy and tenacity that gave Nantucket fits. Barnstable began the third quarter on an 11-0 run to cut the Whaler's lead to 40-32.
"We got to close games out I mean, we closed the last couple out - tight games - but we had a 19 point lead (tonight),” Ferreira said. “We got to find a way, even when it gets to 10, we got to get it back to 16, 18 (points), and just do what we're supposed to do. Then we stopped doing what we do. (Barnstable’s) defense changed. They put more pressure on the ball, rattled us a little bit.”
Sophomore guard Amare Bramwell stopped the Red Hawk’s run with a pair of makes at the free throw line and after a defensive stop, Francis found senior guard Dwayne Martin wide open from three-point range to put Nantucket back ahead by 13 points.
The Whalers led 49-38 entering the final quarter, but Barnstable scored 10 of the first 11 points in the quarter to make it a 50-48 game midway through the fourth.
Aguilar and Francis each answered with a fastbreak bucket to make it a 54-48 game with 3:27 to go in the game, but Barnstable clawed back and tied it 54-54 with two minutes left to play. To add to the adversity, Halik was out of the game after fouling out with about two and a half minutes left.
"It's all there it’s just getting by the bad moments without losing our composure,” Ferreira said. “I got seniors man. We got to be a little bit more mature. We still have breakdowns. We let calls and let what coaches say, what the other team says, what your teammates say really distract us from doing what we're supposed to do. So, we just have to do a better job. I got to coach better, I got to relay the message better, and I got to get guys to do what I want them to do better."
Despite an impressive comeback by Barnstable, the Whalers still had a chance to salvage this game and make their coach proud. With 90 seconds to play, Martin had to ball at the top of the arc and showed great vision by whipping a pass to his left where a wide-open Chris Simpson was positioned for an open three – which he drained to make it a 57-54 game.
Barnstable scored a quick two to make it 57-56 and with 16 seconds left, fouled Simpson intentionally to send him to the line for two free throws. Simpson drilled both of them to make it a 59-56 game.
Barnstable tried to set up a three-point shot in the corner to tie the game and send it to overtime, but Simpson had other plans. He read the play perfectly, fought through a screen, and stole the pass to seal the win for Nantucket.
"He stepped up," Ferreira said of Simpson. "He gave up a three there in the corner. The one guy that could really shoot for them (number 20, Desa Kauan) Chris covered him, they reversed it and he came back, (Chris) wasn't there, (Kauan) got a wide open three, so I was just getting on him a little bit and then he made the play at the end. We told him they're trying to get that kid the ball in the corner and you're going to get screened. He did a good job of fighting through the screen and making the steal. Those are all positive things for us.”
Nantucket will attempt to improve their record to 3-2 on December 27 when they play Medway High School in game one of a Christmas tournament at Milford High School.