By David Willis
NORTH ANDOVER — Friends or not, North Andover bigmen Isaiah Nelsen and Chris Bardwell have turned up the heat on their already intense — but friendly — practice rivalry now that the postseason has arrived.
“We are really going at each other every practice,” said Nelsen. “We are punching each other in the back, bloody noses every practice. We love it. Since he arrived he has made me better and I have made him better.”
Opening the tournament against a Boston Latin Academy team that did not have a player over 6-foot-1 on the roster, the 6-foot-6 Nelsen and 6-foot-5 Bardwell were licking their chops at the chance to exploit the distinct advantage last night.
And the two Scarlet Knights bigmen certainly did impose their wills on the smaller opponent, combining for 36 points and 23 rebounds as No. 2 North Andover rolled over No. 15 Boston Latin Academy 61-41 last night in the Division 2 North first round.
“We call it, ‘Let me eat,’” said Nelsen. “We got the ball and we were just eating in the paint. They were tough, but not very tall and we wanted to exploit that all night.”
On a scouting trip to see Latin in its tourney opening win over Chelsea, the dynamic duo knew they could go to the paint.
“We went to scout them the other day so we knew from the start they weren’t big,” said Bardwell. “So the plan was to get it inside to Isaiah or get it in to me, then play some high-low offense. We wanted to punch them in the mouth, and it looks like it worked.
“That’s our offense. Our best percentage is down in the paint. Our offense is designed to get it down to us.”
The Saint Anselm-bound Nelsen led the Knights, scoring a game-high 22 points and grabbing 11 boards. He was at his best in the third period, scoring 11 of his squad’s 17 points as North Andover stretched its lead to 17 points.
“Isaiah was awesome,” said Bardwell. “He gets the ball, squares up and finishes every time. He plays such a key role for us.”
Bardwell added 14 points, seven in the first quarter as the Knights took control, and a team-best 12 rebounds.
“Bardwell is such a beast,” said Nelsen. “We are both shooting over 50 percent for the season, and we work so well together. It’s been great to have him this year.”
Brendan Miller chipped in with 10 points, while Derek Collins scored nine points and had four assists for the winners.
“I have two very talented big guys and both took advantage with a lot of success,” said Knights coach Mike McVeigh. “But our other starters did a great job of getting the ball in good position and setting up our big two.
“We knew Boston Latin Academy likes to fire, and we did a good job of stopping their 3’s. When you are playing shorter and quicker, you have to have a game plan and try to impose your will. And it worked.”
North Andover expects to face a much larger opponent in the next round, when the Scarlet Knights host No. 7 Concord-Carlisle. McVeigh said the game will be played on Sunday.
“Concord-Carlisle is a tough team with a few 6-foot-5, 6-foot-6 guys,” said Bardwell. “But they are coming into our gym where we have beaten Central Catholic and Lowell this season. So I know we can do it if we play our game.”
@zzAgate:agateHed:North Andover 61, Boston Latin Academy 41
agateText:Division 2 North First Round
agateText:Boston Latin Academy (41):@zzAgate:agateText: Edwin Porro 5 4-4 15, DeVaughn Riley 2 0-0 4, Fritz Jolivain 1 3-6 5, Rayshawn Miller 3 1-1 7, Alex Guerrier 3 2-6 8, Sony Saintil 1 0-0 2. Totals 15 10-17 41
agateText:North Andover (61):@zzAgate:agateText: Isaiah Nelsen 10 1-1 22, Chris Bardwell 6 2-4 14, Brendan Miller 5 0-2 10, Derek Collins 4 1-2 9, Alex Gorgoni 1 0-0 2, Garrett Upson 1 0-0 3, James Testa 0 0-0 0, Casey Walsh 0 0-0 0, John Enright 0 0-0 0, Brett Daly 0 0-0 0, Jeff Warden 0 0-0 0, Robert Shkliew 0 0-0 0. Totals 27 4-9 61
agateText:3-pointers:@zzAgate:agateText: NA — Nelsen, Collins, Upson; BLA — Porro
agateText:Boston Latin (10-10): @zzAgate:agateText:15 6 12 8 — 41
agateText:North Andover (17-4): @zzAgate:agateText:19 14 17 11 — 61