METHUEN — Senior forward Tommy O’Neil erupted for 32 points to help No. 3 St. John’s Prep overcome a 15-point first half deficit and knock off No. 2 Central Catholic, 80-68, in the championship game of the Commonwealth Motors Classic on Saturday night at Methuen High School.
Central raced out to a 33-18 lead in the second quarter behind strong guard play from Kevin Constant and Bret Edwards before the Eagles (4-1) went on an 18-5 run to end the half led by O’Neil, who dominated in the paint.
“He was the MVP and that was an MVP performance,” said Prep coach John Dullea. “We were trying to run our stuff through him as much as we could. We were going to him early and often.”
O’Neil scored 19 first-half points and often found himself isolated with a mismatch in the post because Central played without star forward Colin Bradanese, who was suspended for the game after being ejected in the semifinals on Friday.
“It changed the game,” O’Neil said of Bradanese’s absence. “I just let the game come to me. I was just trying to do anything to help us win.”
Prep trailed by one point with 5:18 to go in the third quarter before Constant (22 points) picked up his fourth personal foul for the Raiders (3-1).
By the time he came back into the game in the fourth quarter, the Eagles had stretched their lead to eight. O’Neil and senior Matt Relihan (18 points) shined during the decisive run that eventually put the game away for the Prep in their inaugural appearance in the tournament.
“I definitely thought it was special,” O’Neil said. “The atmosphere was great. We live for these type of games. It felt great.”