ABINGTON — The numbers, 20 points and 16 rebounds per game, jump off the stat sheet.
But those are just the starting point for Tyler Gibson, a 6-foot-6 senior center, and captain, at Rockland High.
But his favorite number: 6. That’s the number of blocked shots the University of Massachusetts Lowell recruit is averaging per game this season.
“I just love blocking shots,” said Gibson with a smile before last week’s matchup at South Shore League rival Abington.
“It’s a momentum change in the game. Changes the whole flow of the game.”
Gibson has changed the flow of more than a few games this season, establishing himself as arguably the top threat in the South Shore League, powering the Bulldogs to a 13-1 mark overall, and 10-1 in league play.
Gibson is a force at the offensive end, but he has made a name for himself at the defensive end.
Just ask Rockland coach Fred Damon, who has watched Gibson grow from a “goofy, lanky, skinny, weak kid” on the freshman basketball team to an impact player.
With Gibson guarding the paint, the Bulldogs are able to regularly push opponents toward the perimeter, forcing them to take lower-percentage shots.
“Maybe they make an extra pass when they don’t have to. . . . It’s things like that that really make a big difference,” Damon said, adding that other teams get leery with Gibson playing.
“You can tell even when teams are going in, they’re always looking where [Gibson] is.”
That wasn’t the case as much in Tuesday’s 67-53 win over Abington — the Green Wave’s 6-7 senior Matt Diver leveled the playing field a bit — but Gibson still managed to collect 25 rebounds to go with his 23 points. And his six blocks, of course.
Gibson’s difference-making ability is evident on the other end, too, although Damon acknowledges the athlete’s prowess at the free-throw line could use some work.
He often attracts double- and triple-team coverage, which opens up more opportunities for senior point guard Bryan Tavares (15 points, 5 assists per game) and junior forward Matt Nicholson (13 points, 7 rebounds). Even sophomore starters Joe Reardon and Liam Ball have started to step up while getting more looks.
“Most teams think, ‘Oh, Tyler Gibson can dunk the ball,’ this and that,” Tavares said. “They want to start double-teaming him, maybe throw three people at him, and that opens up some looks for me and Matty for jump shots or taking it to the lane and creating for other people.”
Gibson is just fine with that.
Damon describes his star as the consummate team player, and Gibson, shy and unassuming, seems to back that up.
“I’m always looking for the double-double,” Gibson said, unable to hold back another smile. “But I’ll do anything for my team to win. . . . I love to get my teammates involved. I’m not a selfish player. I’m fine if I score 10 and get 10 rebounds, as long as everyone else is playing well and we win the game.”
Combined, it’s worked out quite well for the Bulldogs, who score 63.6 points per game while allowing 45.1.
The Bulldogs’ well-rounded game has resulted in yet another state tournament berth. For the 41st time in 44 years, according to Damon, Rockland will have its dog in the fight through the end of February and, if it’s lucky, the beginning of March.
It’s a run that Damon attributes to Rockland’s sustained legacy and pride. He played at Rockland, and his two assistants — JV coach Chuck McDonald and freshman coach Nick Liquori — are two of his former athletes, so the Bulldog coaching tree of sorts helps pass down the culture.
But for Tavares, there is reason in addition to the tradition. It’s the same thing that helped Gibson earn a scholarship to UMass-Lowell, the same thing that has again lifted the Bulldogs to the top of the SSL.
“Defense,” Tavares said. “Being a defensive [team] helps us be in that position. . . . Defense is going to win us games, and championships also."
Mashpee coach Rick Boulrisse, whose team was undefeated until suffering a loss to Rockland on Jan. 8, attested to Gibson’s defensive prowess.
“[Opposing players] know he’s always around, so some people might hurry a shot,” Boulrisse said. “It’s always in your mind that he’s coming, and he’ll come off his man to contest shots going to the basket.”
Injuries beset Quincy
The Quincy High girls tapped off the season with three straight wins, but the Presidents are just 3-9 since. Quincy has been hurt by a handful of nagging injuries, resulting in having just one returning starter on the floor.
Nicole Jorgensen, a 6-4 freshman center, has been one of the bright spots. She is among the Patriot League leaders in scoring (12.3 points per game), and her 14.7 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game are team highs.
“She’s definitely still learning, but she gets better every game,” coach Jeff Bretsch said. “With her progression as a freshman, I couldn’t be happier.”
Tuesday against Duxbury, a team that boasts four girls over 6 feet, Jorgensen held her own with 11 points, 16 boards, and five blocks — an example, Bretsch said, of her competitiveness and eagerness for challenge.
Bretsch is still hopeful the Presidents can make a run at the state tourney. They played Hingham Friday and have matchups against Silver Lake and Whitman-Hanson this week. . . . The Oliver Ames girls remained the lone unbeaten team in the area. The Tigers (12-0) did not play a week ago Friday against Foxborough, following the sudden death of OA student Devin Ness, a captain on the wrestling team, but crushed Canton, 75-27, on Tuesday night.Tim Healey can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @timbhealey.