WORCESTER — The ball whipped around the court with ease. Henry Bickford found cutters for layups and hit pull-up jumpers. Jackson Shaw converted steals into easy transition baskets. And Brian Cloonan led a stout defensive effort with active hands and hustle.
Fifth-seeded Needham fired on all cylinders Wednesday, jumping out to a 20-point first half lead before coasting to a resounding 60-43 win over North Andover in a Division 1 state semifinal at Worcester State.
“That’s what we do, we run a cutting offense and we like to work without the ball,” said Bickford, a senior forward. “We wanted to set a tone and that’s what we did. Once you get the first one, they keep coming.”
The fifth-seeded Rockets (22-2) advance to the program’s first ever state final where they’ll face sixth-seeded Worcester North (22-2) Sunday at 6 p.m. at Tsongas Arena.
“Making the state championship means the world to us,” said Bickford.
Needham trailed 6-2 in the opening minutes before embarking on a 16-2 run to close out the first quarter. During the stretch, Chris Camozzi recorded a steal and found Shaw for a fast break hoop and Bickford connected on a pair of mid range shots before slicing a pass to Noah Goldstein for another bucket.
The momentum carried into the second quarter during a 9-0 run highlighted by a Shaw steal and an alley-oop pass to Bickford, who banked the shot in.
The Rockets led 38-18 late in the second quarter and never looked back.
“That’s Needham basketball,” said Needham coach Paul Liner. “We like to back cut and share the ball. It built confidence coming out with a big lead and once we settled in we just played great.”
Bickford led the way with 23 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals. Shaw added 10 points, and Cloonan, the Bay State Conference MVP, chipped in eight points and three steals.
FINAL: Needham 60, North Andover 43— Matt Doherty (@m_doherty23) March 16, 2023
Impressive performance from Needham as they advance to play Worcester North in the D1 state final.
Henry Bickford 23 points, eight rebounds, four steals.
Great tournament run by North Andover. @GlobeSchools pic.twitter.com/pNaXCOa6zW
North Andover’s run to the semifinals, which included thrillers over New Bedford and Waltham, finished at 16-8. Senior Jake Denney led the Knights with 10 points.
“Needham executed everything,” said North Andover coach Paul Tanglis. “They moved, they back-cutted, it was everything to get us down in a hole. I’m so proud of these guys though and I think the way we battled and fought says a lot to be in this spot.”