The night before a new pope was elected in St. Peter’s Square
Wednesday afternoon, Brighton boys’ basketball coach Hugh Coleman felt some divine intervention at TD Garden.
“Us coaches really like to give things to the higher power, you know, give it to God,”
Coleman said after a miraculous 55-52 victory over Scituate in the Division 2 EMass championship game, sending the Bengals to the state title game for the second straight year. “We feel like if we do what we’re asked to do in his eyes, he’s going to give us what we deserve and what we’re blessed with.
“And last year I think we dealt with a lot of things off the court that really was like, ‘You guys kind of don’t deserve to be here and I’m going to teach you a lesson about coming here and having a chance to win it but taking it away at the end so that this year it all means a lot more.’ ”
After dealing with disciplinary issues last season, Brighton lost to Mahar in the state championship game, 45-40.
This year, Coleman said, his players have been much more disciplined. Brighton overcame an 11-point deficit with four minutes to play on Tuesday, culminating with Malik James's winning 3-point-play with 1.2 seconds remaining.
Coleman, whose team will play South Hadley at 4 p.m. on Saturday at the DCU Center in Worcester, said this was the first year during his tenure that not one player flunked off the team before the state tournament.
“And that is a product of buying in and trying to teach these guys the right way to do it,” he said. “And you know what, they’ve been faithful, they’ve been consistent. They are not perfect, I’m not perfect, but they’ve done what I've asked them to do and they’ve done it with their heart.”
Brighton was glad to get some rest after practically playing every other day in its run to the state championship game. Coleman said the team watched video Wednesday, before a hard practice on Thursday and a walkthrough on Friday.
“I kind of want to [play right away] because we have the momentum but then again I just want to take practice day by day and just rest my body because I’m exhausted right now,” James said after Tuesday’s game.
James, who went 0 for 3 from the free throw line Tuesday before splitting a pair to tie the game with 1:15 remaining, said he would also use the extra time to practice from the charity stripe.
“We take [free throws] all day in practice and I think it’s because I was like, ‘I need to make these, I need to make these,’ but when I finally calmed down I hit them,” James said.
Another point to work on will be not committing silly fouls. Both James and the team’s other captain, Nick Simpson, sat out much of the third quarter in foul trouble Tuesday.
“Yeah, that’s my fault,” Simpson said. “Now that I know what I did wrong I’m going to work on it so next game we won’t have to be in the same situation.”
Simpson said they also need to focus on not settling for jump shots, and running their half-court sets all the way through.
That will be tough for a 3-point shooting team like the Bengals. But South Hadley, which nailed nine 3-pointers in its Western Mass. championship game victory at the DCU Center on Tuesday, is in the same boat.
And while South Hadley might seem to have a slight home-court edge in Saturday’s game, Coleman said his team has the advantage of playing on the same court for the same stakes last year.
This is South Hadley’s first trip to the state title game.
“For us, it does give us a little space to say, ‘Hey we’ve been here before, we know what to expect, we got the feeling,' ” Coleman said. “Yes, it’s a different feeling but last year’s journey — to the point that it taught us so much about what to expect, respect, appreciate, and I feel like we’re able to go in with this sense of knowledge — makes us appreciate it."
This time around, however, Coleman feels like his team deserves to be in Worcester.
“You know what, I think today might have been that, ‘Hey, remember,' and then, 'All right, go ahead, go on through,' " Coleman said of Brighton’s close call with Scituate.
“So that’s how I’m feeling today. That’s the message that I’m getting today. So we’re not going to take it for granted at all. We’re going to go in wholeheartedly. We’re going to go in humble and we’re going to go in and say, ‘Let’s just work hard and make this the best game of all year.’ ”
About Boston Public Schools Sports BlogMore »
- Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
- Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.