Lowell High Comes Up Dry
NORTH ANDOVER -- After steamrolling through the first nine games of the season, the Lowell High boys basketball team was bound to run into a stiff challenge.
That’s the reality of life in the brutal Merrimack Valley Conference, arguably the best hoop league in the state.
On Tuesday night, that challenge came courtesy of a composed and balanced North Andover squad. The host Scarlet Knights got a game-high 24 points (including four 3-pointers) from senior guard Jake McElroy, shared the ball and had no major issues with Lowell’s vaunted full-court pressure, and came away with a 68-61 victory to hand Lowell (9-1, 4-1 MVC) its first loss.
“North Andover came out and executed. I thought we were ready, but maybe not. They ran their stuff great, they definitely outplayed us,” said Lowell head coach Bob Michalczyk. “I think our energy level was not even close to where it usually is and where it needs to be.”
North Andover improved to 7-1 (4-0 MVC), with its lone loss coming to Central Catholic in a holiday tournament. The Scarlet Knights pretty much led this one wire-to-wire. Senior center Garrett Murphy had 10 points and seven rebounds, and senior guard Gabe DeSouza had 10 points and four assists.
Lowell got 14 points each from senior guard Rashawn Settles and junior guard Carlos Nunez. Senior guard Jarbatha Boykai added 10 points off the bench.
“We wanted to slow them down. We know if it’s a transition game, it’s up and down, (Lowell) is going to win,” said NA head coach Paul Tanglis. “We had to make them run a quarter-court offense and I thought we did that for the most part. We tried to clog the lane a little bit to keep out those drives. If No. 4 (Nate Siow) gets in the middle, it’s over. So I thought we did a good job of that for most of the game.”
Siow had just nine points before fouling out. It was an offensive struggle for the Red Raiders, who entered the game having beat all of their prior opponents by lopsided margins. After trailing 39-30 at the half, they scored nine third-quarter points to trail 54-39 heading into the fourth.
Lowell went into scramble mode in the fourth and showed some life. Nunez drained a 3-pointer then stole it from McElroy in the backcourt and made another triple from the corner to make it 54-45 with 6:55 remaining.
The Scarlet Knights went scoreless for the first 4:32 of the fourth quarter until Kyle Moore (nine points) finally converted a drive to take the lid off the hoop and make it 56-47. It was a missed opportunity for Lowell, which couldn’t get any closer than seven, despite NA’s drought.
“Carlos had a big five-second stretch there. We needed to play with that kind of energy the whole game,” said Michalczyk. “We’ve gotten off to really good starts in each of the past four years now. It always happens around this time where we get that one where another team takes it to us and we don’t give it back to them.”
The inside-outside combo of Murphy and McElroy, an All-State quarterback in football, set the tone early for the Scarlet Knights. Lowell had to help with the 6-foot-5 Murphy down low and that freed up the knock-down shooter McElroy. It was 20-13 after the first quarter and NA led by as many as 12 in the first half. The Red Raiders made just one 3-pointer in the first half, while the offense was stagnant.
Things don’t get any easier for Lowell going forward, with Lawrence and Central Catholic, which both entered Tuesday with just one loss, up next, followed by a tough non-conference game vs. BC High.
Of course, North Andover’s schedule isn’t any easier.
“It’s exciting and it’s brutal,” said Tanglis. “You’ve got to turn the page. I said we’ve got to enjoy this for the next couple of hours and we got to come to practice (Wednesday) and talk about Lawrence. You can’t get too high and you can’t get too low.”