By Matt Jenkins
---- — DANVERS — St. John’s Prep basketball coach John Dullea can live with the routine as long as it produces the desired result.
For the second straight night in the IAABO Board 130 Basketball Classic, the Eagles built a big first-half lead, watched it whittle away to nothing in the second half and then closed it out in the final few minutes.
Last night, St. John’s did just enough down the stretch to hold off the surging Andover Golden Warriors to capture the tournament crown, 60-52.
“That’s kind of our thing,” Dullea quipped. “We get a big lead, we let them come back, then we finish them off at the end. It doesn’t make my job any easier.”
The Eagles (16-4) were playing their typical tough defense and getting just about everything they wanted on offense in the first half, carrying a 36-22 lead into the locker room.
Andover found a spark during the break, however. The Golden Warriors came out in the third quarter and held St. John’s to just six points, trimming the deficit to seven (42-35).
Andover (15-4) eventually pulled even on a Ryan O’Connell 3-pointer with 5:10 to play and again after David Giribaldi converted two free throws with 3:28 to go. But the Eagles never let them take the lead.
It was nearly a carbon copy of St. John’s Prep’s win over Lynn English the night before.
“Getting over the hump, it’s always tough. Every coach in America will say the same thing. You put everything into getting it even and then you take a deep breath and they make a three or get in the lane and make a play,” Andover coach David Fazio said. “We worked hard to get it even but they still made the plays. All the props to them.”
After Giribaldi tied it at 48-48, Ben Judson (14 points) of Plaistow made two free throws for St. John’s. Then, Mike Bisson made 1 of 2 from the line for the Eagles and Judson cashed in on an open look from 3-point land to push it back to 54-48 with 2:03 to play.
Max Burt of North Andover added two free throws down the stretch, Max Butterbrodt (team-high 16 points) of North Andover finished a layup and Kareem Davis (14 points) made two freebies to close it out.
“The last couple big wins, it’s been down to the wire. In the last four minutes we’ve gotten stops when we need and converted either free throws or baskets when we needed,” Dullea said. “It’s good to know going into the tournament because the further you go in the tournament, it’s going to come down to the last three or four minutes. We’ve been in those positions and we came up short (last week) against Central Catholic, but we’ve been on the right side of it against English and Andover.”
Giribaldi led Andover with 18 points, junior center Connor Merinder added 13 and freshman E.J. Perry hit for 10. The Prep rotated defenders on Giribaldi, primarily with Burt drawing the assignment.
“It was a big point of emphasis for us. Whatever (Giribaldi) got tonight, he was going to have to earn,” Dullea said. “He had 34 points the last two games and a lot of their offense runs through him. We weren’t concerned with the total number, but whatever he got he was going to have to earn it.
“I think we did a phenomenal job. He’s a tough kid. He has the heart of a champion and he’s not afraid to step up and take and make big shots.”
St. John’s Prep 60, Andover 52
Andover (52): Brown 1-0-2, Perry 4-1-10, O’Connell 4-0-9, Giribaldi 4-9-18, Merinder 6-1-13, Pisacreta 0-0-0, Rodriguez 0-0-0. Totals 19-11-52
St. John’s Prep (60): Judson 4-4-14, J. Burt 1-0-2, M. Burt 3-2-9, Bisson 2-1-5, Davis 6-2-14, Butterbrodt 8-0-16, Danforth 0-0-0, Johnson 0-0-0, Lovett 0-0-0. Totals 24-9-60
3-pointers: A — Perry, O’Connell; SJP — Judson 2, M.Burt
Andover (15-4): 11 11 13 17 — 52
St. John’s Prep (16-4):17 19 6 18 — 60