It’s not unusual for an overlooked role player to step up in the most crucial moments of a championship game when defenders are keying in on the offensive horses.
In the case of Tuesday night’s Division 2 Eastern Mass championship game (6 p.m.), it will be hard for Scituate to overlook Brighton big man Prince Unaegbu.
The 6-foot-6-inch senior center — who has struggled with his confidence at times during the football and basketball seasons this school year — hit his offensive stride when it mattered most during the Bengals 64-59 victory in the North division final at the Tsongas Center in Lowell on Saturday.
Unaegbu scored his first bucket of the game with 5:39 left in the contest when he tipped in a Nate Hogan miss to put the Bengals up 52-47.
Then, after North Andover tied the game at 55 with 1:59 to play, Brighton point guard Malik James crossed over his man in the lane before feeding Unaegbu for a dunk that put the Bengals up two with 1:41 left.
“I was happy,” Unaegbu said of the dunk. “Every time Malik does that I just know I’m going to get the ball and I hadn’t dunked since [the city tournament] and I just needed it so bad.”
James said, “He definitely struggles sometimes and I try to get in the way of that by giving him easy dunks, get in the lane and dump it off to him because once he gets his confidence up nobody can stop him.
“It’s very important for everybody to step up [on Tuesday], not just Prince, but especially Prince because once his confidence is down his confidence is down. We just have to encourage each other.”
After his go-ahead dunk, Unaegbu snagged a rebound on the other end of the floor after North Andover missed a 3-pointer that would have given them the lead.
Then, Brighton’s other offensive horse, Nick Simpson, converted a 3-point-play that practically put the game on ice with 57 seconds to play — sending the Bengals to the TD Garden for the second straight year.
“I’m glad we are returning back to the Garden, I’m so happy, it felt so good,” Unaegbu said. “We just have to come back with the win.”
Last year Brighton defeated Stoughton, 53-42, in the Garden before losing to Mahar 45-41 in the state championship game at the DCU Center in Worcester.
“We already know the environment, no nerves or anything,” Unaegbu said of the Garden. “If anything it will be hard for them, the excitement.”
Brighton coach Hugh Coleman will make sure that Unaegbu is confident for the big moments during Tuesday’s Garden game by reminding him of how well he performed in the clutch against North Andover.
“I think because Malik and Nick and Davion [Edwards] take so much pressure off everyone else it allows Prince to be there at those moments,” Coleman said. “Whenever I see something positive I go to him and say ‘I want that for the next game, I want that for the next two games, you proved you can do it now do it every time.’”
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