SALEM – From the 7:05 mark in Tuesday evening’s second quarter when his first field goal finally fell, Lowell guard Alex Rivera seemingly couldn’t miss. The senior’s range extended way beyond the three-point mark, and each shot he released induced audible gasps throughout Veterans Memorial Field House.
But when Rivera fouled out, forced to give a foul with 16.7 seconds remaining after tallying 35 points (seven 3-pointers), opposing Everett no longer had to worry about the Red Raiders’ most lethal weapon.
Key free throws by Eric Thompson and Caleb Jacobs helped the Crimson gain a 71-68 advantage with 6.7 seconds remaining, and a steal by Jacobs in the waning seconds sealed top-seeded Everett’s first Division 1 North semifinal victory since 2003 against Central Catholic.
Everett (22-1) will face No. 2 Lawrence in the sectional final on Saturday at the Tsongas Center in Lowell.
“We did everything but follow him to the men’s room,” said Everett coach John DiBiaso of attempting to slow Rivera.
“Maybe we should’ve done that. He’s a great player and played a great game for them. I thought we hung in, were resilient and got the breaks at the end.”
Whereas Rivera carried Lowell (18-5) for much of the contest, Everett featured a more balanced offensive attack, with point guard Isaiah Likely (13 points, 14 rebounds, 7 assists) driving and kicking with flair to sharp-shooters Ghared Boyce (21 points) and Jacobs (17 points) from the tip.
After two Rivera free throws cut Everett’s lead to two with less than 20 seconds remaining, the Red Raiders buckled down and induced a five-second call. Likely, unwilling to let Lowell attempt a game-tying or winning shot, stole the rock back.
“Going into halftime down one, we put our heads together,” Likely said. “[I] told the team, ‘We’ve been in this situation before; let’s fight through. Everyone move the ball, everyone talk — I promise you we’ll get it.’”
His message was well-received: Everett closed a strong defensive frame with a 6-0 run for a 50-43 advantage.
But Rivera began to cook, ripping off 10 straight points to tie the game, 60-60.
It wasn’t enough.
“I just think it was a great team effort, a full team effort,” said Boyce, who had lost in the sectional semis in each of his first three seasons at Everett.
“Alex Rivera, he’s a hell of a shooter, hell of a basketball player. We just tried to contain him as best we could.”Owen Pence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.