Just as it has all season, the New Mission boys’ basketball team relied on the leadership and experience of its seniors to punch its ticket to the Division 2 state championship with a 71-63 semifinal win over Milton Tuesday night at TD Garden.
“I told them that there’s some pros that play in the NBA that sign a bunch of 10-day contracts and never get to play in the Garden,” Titans coach Cory McCarthy said. “And they got to play in the Garden a full game and that’s so special. And because they understand that, they understand how huge that is, they were able to step up in the big moment on the parquet floor.”
Senior guard Shaquan Murray led the Titans with 18 points, and classmates and forwards Fred Rivers contributed 13 points, Asante Sandiford had 11, and Sochika Nzerem added 9.
“I feel I did pretty good,” Murray said. “In the beginning I was kinda slow. I was getting my big men involved like the game plan was. Towards the second half, that’s when I had to turn it up offensively and defensively and really score. We did it as a team. It’s a great win.”
Milton’s first lead of the game was an 11-10 advantage in the first quarter. Rivers and Sandiford, who finished with 11 and seven rebounds, respectively, shut down the Wildcats’ second-chance opportunities with their aggressive play under the rim. Even after Sandiford hit the floor hard early in the frame, he got up and played the rest of the game with no issue.
“I was hurt a little bit but I wanted the satisfaction out of the win,” he said. “It hurts a little bit now but I wanted to win it for me, for my teammates, for my family.”
After one quarter, the Titans held a slim 13-11 lead.
Milton senior guard Matthew Papalambros kicked off the second quarter with an NBA 3-pointer to put the Wildcats on top, but Sandiford answered with a trey on the next possession.
New Mission never relinquished the lead and maintained the stifling defensive pressure the rest of the game. Every time Milton cut into the Titans’ lead, the defense stepped up and the offense finished.
“We turned it up defensively,” Murray said. “We had to make free throws. We had to be aggressive more on the offensive end and take shots that were open.”
The Wildcats cut the deficit to 6 with 1:03 to play, but Murray hit a layup, drew a foul, and sank the free throw to put the game out of reach.
The Titans will play Concord-Carlisle Saturday at the DCU Center for the Division 2 crown.
“We just have to stay together, stay as a team,” Sandiford said. “Keep our composure at all times. We’re trying to win our last game. The Garden, it was great to be here, but this isn’t it. We have one more to go.”