LAWRENCE — In an early season test for the fourth-ranked Lowell boys’ basketball team, the Red Raiders followed the lead of senior Alex Rivera.
The star guard produced a game-high 27 points and collected 12 rebounds as fourth-ranked Lowell stayed unbeaten, defeating No. 3 Central Catholic, 72-58, at Memorial Gymnasium to keep a firm grasp atop the Merrimack Valley Conference.
“Anytime you win at Central is a good win,” said Lowell coach Bobby Michalczyk.
“I am happy with this. I mean, we still have a long ways to go but as for right now we are in a pretty good spot.”
Lowell (6-0) turned up the defensive intensity late in the third quarter to pull away in a game that was tightly contested. With the score knotted at 55, Rivera drained a 10-foot step-back that sparked a 9-1 Red Raiders’ run in the final two minutes of the quarter.
Junior guard Justin Villanueva contributed 4 of his 15 points to the run and also was tasked with defending Central senior Colin Brandanese the entire night. The 6-foot-3-inch Villanueva held the 6-5 Brandanese to 7 points.
“That kid is awesome,” said Michalczyk of Villanueva. “We tell him to go guard their best player all night, and he roughly shuts him down. Then he contributes on the offensive end, which is an additional bonus.”
Central Catholic (3-2) trimmed the deficit to 61-52 with 4:40 remaining on an acrobatic layup by junior guard Kevin Constant.
But the Raiders wouldn’t get any closer.
Junior Otoagua Okonoboh’s layup on the ensuing Lowell possession pushed it back to double-digits, and after a steal by sophomore Nathaniel Siow classmate Carlos Nunez finished the fastbreak layup for a 65-52 margin.
Rivera had the hot hand in the first half for Lowell – drilling six of his seven 3-pointers. But it was Constant (team-leading 20 points) who gave the Raiders a 35-32 advantage at the half.
Lowell went on to outscore Central Catholic, 40-23, in the second half.Karl Capen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.