Boys’ hoop topped by Watertown in D3N quarterfinals, 62-44

Mar 8, 2018 by

Published in the March 7, 2018 edition

By DAN PAWLOWSKI

LYNNFIELD — Usually if you get to a high school basketball game thirty minutes before tip-off you have your pick of seats. But even if you anticipated a big crowd at LHS on Saturday night in advance of a Lynnfield-Watertown boys’ basketball rematch, getting to the gym 45 minutes early was just barely enough time to squeeze into the stands and watch a pregame chant battle between the camo-clad students of LHS and the beach-themed sea of tourists from Watertown High.

LYNNFIELD’S SENIOR STARTERS are introduced in front of a packed student section at LHS before the Pioneers’ quarterfinal game against Watertown on Saturday night. The senior starters include Billy Arseneault (left), Zack Shone (3), Dan Jameson (21), Matt Mortellite (2) and Jason Ndansi (1). (Dan Pawlowski Photo)

The headlining entertainment for the night was the No. 2 seeded Pioneers against the No. 7 seeded Raiders. Watertown beat Lynnfield, 58-46 last season in the semifinals of the D3 North, on their way to a sectional championship.

Had a rematch been expected at the beginning of this season, Watertown (16-6) would have certainly been favored considered returning players John Korte and Julio Fulcar. Lynnfield (18-4) did get back 2017 CAL Player of the Year Billy Arseneault, but they would need multiple players step up this season. Those players, including seniors Zack Shone, Dan Jameson, Jason Ndansi and Matt Mortellite have done all of that and more this year as they helped create one of the best teams in the league.

Although the Pioneers left it all on the court, the Raiders took control early and never let Lynnfield feel like they were in it.

“They made things extremely difficult for us to do the things we do well,” said Lynnfield head coach Scott MacKenzie. “It all had to do with strength and athleticism. It was a tough matchup for us.”

BILLY ARSENEAULT looks for a driving lane against Watertown on Saturday night. Arseneault finished his decorated LHS basketball career with 19 points against the Raiders. Arseneault scored his 1,000th point against Swampscott during Lynnfield’s first round win on Feb. 28. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)

MacKenzie has often talked about Lynnfield’s ability to overcome their shortcomings this year, as they seem to get similar game plans from every team who try to expose their lack of height and make someone other than Arseneault beat them. The captain finished with 19 in this one, but no other Pioneers scored in double figures; something that MacKenzie knew they needed to do in order to win.

“We needed three guys in double digits to some degree because it would loosen things up for Bill and it just didn’t happen, so the screws tightened up on Bill.”

Those screws largely took the form of senior guard Fulcar, who was nothing short of sensational from start to finish for Watertown. Fulcar scored 32 points, but it was his defense on Arseneault that really solidified his status as the most dominant player on the court.

“Fulcar is the best player we saw this year, hands down,” said MacKenzie. “He’s the best player we’ve seen in a couple years. However many points he had, however many steals, it was his ability to take the last 5 1/2 minutes on his own and control the game in a situation like this that was incredible. He’s so smart, he is an absolute stud.”

The Raiders went to Korte (14 pts) on the block during their first two possessions to try to establish their dominance down low. The 6’5 senior scored on both and Watertown jumped out to a 10-1 lead before Lynnfield could get their bearings.

Lynnfield battled back as Arseneault buried a three at the buzzer, but the Raiders took a 16-10 lead into the second quarter.

Mortellite got a gritty bucket to start the second quarter, and Arseneault had a nice spin and layup to make it 19-15, but the Raiders put a stranglehold on the Pioneer offense for the rest of the frame, and Fulcar started hitting everything from mid range jumpers to triples, to tough drives as Watertown took a 31-18 lead into halftime.

Lynnfield has been deadly in the open court this season, but Watertown’s athleticism and transition defense was unlike anything the Pioneers had seen this year.

“Their physical strength did not allow us to find cuts,” said MacKenzie. “When we did catch inside they swarmed.”

It was more of the same in the second half, as MacKenzie admitted that even a 10 point lead felt more like 30 against a team of this caliber. The Pioneers prepared as well as they could and they knew what Watertown would throw at them defensively; it didn’t matter.

“Their game plan was very similar to everyone else we played this year, they just did it better,” said MacKenzie. “They weren’t looking to deny Billy the ball but they were gonna run a double at him.”

I this case, Watertown had an elite primary on-ball defender (Fulcar) on Arseneault, and enough talented secondary defenders to help and also shut down the other Pioneers.

It was certainly a tough way to for this competitive group of seniors to go out, but they ought to be proud of this season, which included a CAL Kinney title. For MacKenzie, it won’t be the immense toughness and basketball talent of the this team that he will miss the most.

“For me its the non-basketball stuff I’ll miss,” said MacKenzie. “The times before and after practice with all six of them. Their ability to make me laugh, to have conversations that transcend hoops into regular life; the five or six times I’d catch myself smiling because of what someone said. Those things go a long way. My daughter said after the game, ‘dad you get to come home now everyday’ and I do, and that’s a great thing but I’ll tell you, I’m gonna miss that stuff. I won’t miss the hoops for a while, but I’m gonna miss the relationships.”

And as for Ndansi, Mortellite, Shone, Owen Colbert, Arseneault and Jameson, a group that has largely been hooping together since they first dribbled a ball, this season provided more than enough memories to be proud of.

“I told them, ‘the basketball season is over but at some point in time you’re going to be able to look back on the memories you had it’s going to put a smile on your face and that’s the beauty of team sports.'”

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