By Jeremy Balan
It almost doesn’t matter how well Lowell High School’s boys basketball team shoots in any given game.
Lowell’s defense is so stout this season, if the shots don’t fall, the Cardinals can still win comfortably, and they proved that in a 52-41 win over Bay in the first round of the Cardinal Classic on Thursday at Lowell.
Lowell (4-1) shot just over 29 percent from the floor and only had one player score in double figures, but it was the strength of its defense — forcing 18 Bay turnovers and limiting the Breakers (5-2) to shoot just over 31 percent from the floor — that was the difference.
“I have [eight] seniors on this team, so we should be comfortable holding a lead and know how to handle it,” said Lowell head coach Rob Ray. “We rely on our defense a lot, so when we have a six- or seven-point lead, for us, it feels like 10 or 12.”
The Cardinals missed all 10 of their 3-point shots in the first half, but still led 20-18 at the break, then hit key shots in the third quarter to build a 35-25 lead Bay could not rally back from.
“We’re going to keep shooting 3s, and if we lose, we’re going to still keep shooting 3s within our offense,” Ray said. “Everybody on this team has a green light to shoot when they are open and we’re going to keep doing what we do and hopefully they’ll start dropping.”
The Breakers tried to battle back, though, and cut the lead to 44-40 with a minute left by riding the hot hand of senior guard Connor Mattoon.
Mattoon had a game-high 19 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the field and connected on 3-of-6 shots from 3-point range in the second half.
“It’s very nice to have a healthy Connor Mattoon,” said Bay head coach Pete Overfelt. “Last year, he had a back injury and he struggled with that all season. Now, he’s a senior and this is his year. He’s a ballplayer, he can shoot and that’s his role.”
The Breakers did their best to extend the game with fouls, but the Cardinals made 10-of-12 free throws in the final 1:11 to put the game away.
“They had good shooters, and they were stepping back to college and NBA range and nailing them. There’s not much we can do about that,” Ray said. “Again, with a group of seniors, knocking down free throws down the stretch is a part of the game we’re supposed to take care of.”
Senior forward Jackson Miao connected on his first four shots of the game and only took six total, but led the Cardinals with 10 points and played a key role defensively, blocking three shots in the fourth quarter.
“Offense is not really one of my main things and I try to focus on my defense and grabbing boards,” Miao said. “We’re just trying to win. Our No. 1 thing is defense and that’s what we hang our hats on.”
Jackson Miao — 10
Zachary Yu — 9
Avery Nicastro-Aikman — 8
Jonathon Li — 7
Bryan Robinson — 6
Connor Mattoon — 19
Zev Newman — 11
Lucas Knorr — 6
Henry Gale — 3
James Koch — 2