Malik James watched from the bench at what could have been his last game in a Brighton High jersey after picking up his fourth foul at the end of the third quarter of Tuesday night’s Division 2 boys’ basketball Eastern Mass. final at TD Garden.
“I’m definitely not coming back to Brighton next year,’’ said James, who is planning on going to prep school next year. “There are a few options, I have an interview coming up but my coach, he has all that information. It’s been planned. That’s why I’m trying to carry them so far, getting them this ring so I can leave on a good note.”
The fourth-year junior certainly left this one on a good note.
James scored 14 of his 21 points in the final four minutes to lead Brighton to a 55-52 crown-clinching win over Scituate. Brighton will play South Hadley Saturday for the state championship in Worcester.
With James on the bench to start the fourth, Scituate senior John Foster scored 6 of his 14 points through the first four minutes to give Scituate a 49-38 lead.
“It was tough because I thought I had to stay out,” James said. “I just promised myself that when I got back in the game, I was going to work hard for me, the coaching staff, everybody; the fans and my teammates and we just came out victorious.”
After James helped Brighton close the deficit to 50-49 with 1:15 left, the point guard, 0 for 3 from the line to that point, was sent to the stripe with a chance to give his club the lead. James sank 1 of 2 to keep the Bengals alive.
David Cox then looked like he saved Scituate from the collapse by connecting on two free throws with 53 seconds to go.
However, with 8.4 seconds left, James once again rose to the occasion by tying the game with two made free throws. James then made a 3-point play in transition after senior Nate Hogan forced a turnover to seal the win and extend Brighton’s season.
“There’s no way I can miss those [free throws] and let my team down, no way,” James said. “So I just took a deep breath, got myself together and I made them.”
The comeback came after Brighton had to sit both juniors Nick Simpson (16 points) and James because of foul trouble, allowing Scituate to build a 39-33 lead to start the fourth. That, plus James struggling in the first half and on his free throws made coach Hugh Coleman say this game was a perfect example of fighting through adversity.
“Four minutes, down 11, an average team, a team that hadn’t gone through adversity, would give up easily but I think we’ve proven to ourselves it’s never over until the buzzer rings so that adversity has built so much character in our program,” Coleman said.