By Bill Burt
---- — 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.”
Brighton outscored North Andover 14-5 with Bardwell, the Merrimack Valley Conference Large School MVP, out.
And when Brighton got its first lead, 43-42, it never trailed again.
The Knights, though, weren’t finished either.
After Bardwell got his fourth foul only 1:18 into the fourth quarter, three unsung juniors who’ve gotten a lot more time with standout Brendan Miller unable to play, delivered.
Kyle White (six points, two steals), Casey Walsh (four points) and John Enright (two steals) made key second-half contributions, helping North Andover tie it at 55-55 with two minutes remaining.
But out of the timeout, a resounding two-handed dunk by Brighton’s Prince Unaegbu, basically finished off the Knights.
Nelsen had a go-ahead 3-pointer go in and out before Brighton’s Nick Simpson (23 points) scored a layup and was fouled to go ahead, 60-55.
Simpson was sent to the line twice and made all four, to clinch the win.
Brighton, which attempted 27 three-pointers, made eight of them. Senior Davion Edwards (17 points) and Simpson, combined for seven of them for the Bengals, who lost in the state final last winter.
”What a year we had,” said Collins.
“A lot of people didn’t think we’d make it this far or didn’t think we’d win the MVC. I have nothing but good things to say about this team and this year. And now that Coach McVeigh is leaving, it makes it special that I was with him when he retired.”
agateHed:Brighton 64, North Andover 59
agateText:Division 2 North Final
Tsongas Center, Lowell
agateText:Brighton (64): Malik James 6-0-12, Mark Mojica 1-0-3, Daivon Edwards 5-3-17, Prince Unaegbu 2-0-4, Nick Simpson 7-6-23, Jason Jones 4-0-8, Totals 23-9-64
agateText:North Andover (59): Kyle White 2-1-6, Casey Walsh 2-0-4, Aaron Straus 1-0-2, Derek Collins 6-1-16, Chris Bardwell 8-0-16, Isaiah Nelsen 5-3-14, John Enright 0-0-0, Alex Gorgoni 0-0-0, James Testa 0-0-0, Jeff Warden 0-0-0, Garrett Upson 0-0-0, Totals 24-5-59
agateText:3-pointers: B — Edwards 4, Simpson 3, Mojica; NA — Collins 3, Nelsen, White
Brighton (19-6) 14 13 20 17 - 64
North Andover (19-5) 16 16 13 14 - 59