LOWELL — The North Andover High boys basketball team got a double whammy at the Tsongas Center yesterday.
First, the Knights lost to Brighton High, 64-59, in the Division 2 North sectional final, missing out on a chance to play at the TD Garden on Tuesday. Then they lost their respected leader, head coach Mike McVeigh.
Immediately after the game, a teary-eyed McVeigh told his team, which finished 19-5 this winter, that his 31-year career was ending right there in Lowell.
”I knew about two months ago,” said McVeigh, who amassed a record of 497-176 over his career. “It’s been a long ride. And I couldn’t be prouder of this team and all of the other teams I’ve coached. Some years were tougher than others, but all of them have been rewarding.”
Unlike the girls game, played just before it (Reading beat the Knights easily, 48-33), this game was a toss-up from the start.
The Knights never trailed in the first half with Derek Collins hitting three NBA-length 3-pointers en route to 14 points. Fellow seniors Chris Bardwell and Isaiah Nelsen chipped in with eight points and six points, respectively, as they led 32-27.
In fact, the Knights upped the lead to 37-29 and appeared ready to take control of the game. But Bardwell, who missed six minutes of the first half with two fouls, got his third foul just 2:26 into the third quarter.
It not only took out the Knights’ key inside presence, but it allowed Brighton (19-6) to shackle Collins with a different defender every minute.
“When we saw North Andover against Wakefield, No. 21 (Collins) hit something like seven 3-pointers,” said Brighton coach Hugh Coleman.
“And it’s not just him. No. 42 (Nelsen) and No. 41 (Bardwell) are tough matchups, too. But we felt we had to have someone on No. 21 in the second half.”