NORTH ANDOVER — The ultimate closers, winners of 12 straight conference games and six straight conference titles, Central Catholic looked poise to initiate MVC newcomer North Andover into the runner-up club, up 18 points in the third quarter.
North Andover simply refused.
No thanks. We’re good. Now please get out of our way.
Behind and amazing closing performance by the Knights’ big three — seniors Isaiah Nelsen, Derek Collins and Chris Bardwell — North Andover closed on an impeccable 33-9 closing barrage over the final 12 minutes for a 58-52 win that left even the most staunch Raider supporters speechless.
“We just stopped doing all the things we had been to be so successful,” said Central coach Rick Nault, whose club pushed a 28-19 halftime lead to 43-25 in the third before the walls fell in. “We stopped defending, and they started hitting shots. They just made all the plays and we didn’t down the stretch.”
Central, which clearly missed injured point guard Lucas Hammel (thigh contusion), falls to 12-2 overall and 9-1 in the Valley, sharing the lead with the 9-1 Knights.
Bardwell, a former Raider lit the fuse on this explosion, simply shutting the door on the Raiders inside.
Until the midpoint of the third, Central feasted on the offensive glass.
“We talked at halftime about all those second-chance points,” said Knights’ coach Mike McVeigh.
“But a whole lot of boxing out is about attitude. It’s attitude and finding your man, and then going after it.”
Bardwell (13 points, 14 boards) provided plenty of attitude — all positive for the Knights — who then found the catalyst in Collins.
Shackled all night by Kid Velcro, Joel Berroa, and driven to a crawl by foul trouble, Collins didn’t hit the scoresheet until the third, but an early three took the edge off.
Collins, who finished with 14 points and 8 rebounds, knocked down a pullup from 15, found Bardwell for a layin, then flung home a 60-foot 3-pointer at the final buzzer of the third, jolting the Raiders and electrify the Crozier Crazies, making it 43-34 Central into the fourth.