By Hector Longo
---- — LAWRENCE – Protect the basketball and win games.
It’s been a simple formula, one the North Andover High boys again worked to perfection last night in a 68-44 thumping of Wakefield in the Division 2 North semifinals.
“Every game that we’ve lost, we turned the ball over on at least 25 percent of our possessions,” said Knights’ captain Isaiah Nelsen. “We’re a darn good offensive basketball team when we don’t turn it over. I think we’re shooting almost 50 percent from the field. Tonight, Kyle White was unbelievable. He was strong and confident with the basketball. He got us into our offense. And we didn’t turn the basketball over at all.”
And because of that, Wakefield – the team that ousted the Knights last year – didn’t stand a chance.
North Andover now will play for the North title on Saturday at Tsongas Arena vs. No. 5 Brighton.
Just how efficient was North Andover with the basketball last night?
“I don’t think (we had 10),” said Knights’ coach Mike McVeigh of the turnover count last night.
The coach might have been overselling it. Five was probably closer to it.
And with all the opportunities, the Knights punished Wakefield with all three North Andover all-conference weapons.
Derek Collins led the way with 26 points – 13 coming in the third when the Knights turned a 31-23 game into a 54-30 runaway.
“It’s such a great feeling watching Derek go off like that,” said Nelsen. “He’s such a cold-blooded shooter. He just got into that zone where nobody is going to stop him. He just believes that every shot he takes is going in.”
Nelsen was a nasty thorn in Wakefield’s side all night as well, tossing in 20 points, including a vicious right-handed breakaway dunk to ice it in the fourth. His frontcourt running mate Chris Bardwell added 14 points but might have done his best work on the defensive glass, where Wakefield was one-and-done all night.
Times for Saturday’s North Andover games at Tsongas – both boys and girls -- remain undecided as the MIAA maneuvers to work the schedule around a junior prom.
DUNK TANK: Nelsen’s breakaway jam came only seconds after Wakefield’s lone real highlight, a Bruce Brown tomahawk in traffic.
North Andover’s Bardwell probably had the best view of it. As always, the glib lefty noted, “I wasn’t pumped up to get dunked on, but I’m definitely pumped up we won.”
Nelsen on his own jam: “It wasn’t my best, and it wasn’t my worst. I just wanted to silence them after the Brown dunk.