NEW BOSTON — Over the previous five years of its existence, the New Boston Tigers’ boys basketball program had fallen into a place where people wondered if the program, itself, would ever return to the glory days of yesteryear.
But with a newly energetic head coach in Adam Cox, and a strong stable of talent that includes Kade Conley and Tyler Caldwell among many others, the Tigers have already worked to restore much of that energy that was lost during the rough times of the program. The result? A 2-1 start and a 2-0 overall record in conference action that included wins over Symmes Valley and Western.
The optimism that resulted in those victories led to a packed house on Tuesday evening in arguably the most anticipated East-New Boston rivalry affair of the current decade — and the contest didn’t disappoint.
After battling through 10 ties or lead changes to start the affair, East broke through and, behind the efforts of Kyle Flannery, Will Shope, and Brayden Queen, obtained a 35-29 halftime advantage. However, New Boston came right back.
Behind seven second-half threes and incredible performances from several key members of its unit, the Tigers came right back and, behind three consecutive three-pointers from Tyler Caldwell, Kade Conley, and Eddie Phipps, scored arguably the biggest victory for the program in the current decade with a 75-65 victory over the Tartans that left many with a simple impression: New Boston is back.
“Man, they dug deep tonight,” Cox said of his kids. “They dug deep. I appreciate all of the support from around the area that want to see these kids do good. Adam Bailey, the East Tartans, Kyle Flannery, and Will Shope played their hearts out. It could’ve very easily been the other way around if they hit some shots that they missed, and if we had missed some shots that we made.”
As for Adam Bailey, New Boston’s comeback, where the Tigers rallied from a 10-point second-quarter deficit, came in part to a lack of patience from East on the offensive side of the floor.
“When we got a lead, we got a little too impatient,” Bailey said. “We’ve got to do a better job and find a way to help our kids do a better job of controlling the tempo and taking better shots, especially when teams are going on runs of their own. I’ve got a lot of confidence in my kids that we’re going to come back, put in a couple of hard days of work, and get ready for the next game on Friday.”
From the outset, a fast-paced and high-intensity affair akin to the best rivalry contests broke out at Glenwood High School as the Tartans and Tigers tied for or traded the point 10 times over the opening five-and-a-half minutes.
However, East quickly changed the outlook of the half behind the play of Shope and Flannery. The pair, who combined for 15 of East’s 35 points in the opening half of action, helped lead the Tartans on a 10-4 run in the first quarter en route to taking a 19-16 lead following the opening frame.
“I was really pleased with the first half,” Bailey said. “We had a few defensive breakdowns, but not too many that we couldn’t live with. I thought that we did a really good job of running what we wanted to run and controlling the tempo in the first half.”
In the second quarter, East was able to extend its one-possession lead out to a four-possession cushion, at one point, behind the play of Queen, who proved to be a spark off of the bench for the Tartans. The 6-2 junior ultimately scored all seven of his points in the frame behind his excellent low-post positioning, strength, and rebounding ability, and ultimately took off on an 8-1 run en route to establishing a 32-22 lead with 2:41 to play in the opening half of action. East ultimately took a 35-29 lead into the locker room thanks to a blistering shooting percentage that sat north of 70 percent by the end of the first half of play.
“Brayden Queen played well in the time that he played,” Bailey said. “He knocked down some shots for us, and we really played well as a team when he was playing well down low. We were moving the ball, we were getting the ball to the open guy, and we were knocking down open shots. I believe that we did a really good job of that, especially in the second quarter when we built our lead.”
“Their role players really stepped up, played big, and made some shots,” Cox said. “They were hitting shots and getting after it. East played really well in the first half.”
However, after several minutes of figuring out what defense to utilize in the second half action, Cox found strength in the advice of his players, who urged their first-year leader that a man-to-man defense was the right one to employ.
“At halftime, we’re sitting around, thinking, ‘Man, East shot 72 percent in the first half,’” Cox said. “We’re hoping that they calm down and come back to reality because they were shooting phenomenal in the first half. We tried a little bit of everything to slow down East’s offense, and we just couldn’t find a defense that we were comfortable in. The turning point was when the kids said, ‘Coach, we want to play them man-to-man.’ We’re not sitting back in a zone. We want to dig our way out, we want to play them man-to-man, and we know that we can.”
While Cox admitted that he had reservations of going to a man-to-man look defensively, the belief in his players, and the work that they had put in to get better, ultimately won out.
“I was skeptical because we didn’t guard very well in the first half,” Cox said. “I was nervous to put them into the man-to-man. However, when you love your kids, and you’ve seen the amount of energy and effort that they’ve put in, you trust them.”
And from the outset, the players wasted no time proving Cox right in his decision to trust in them. After keeping the margin at six throughout the first half of the third quarter, Caldwell and Conley wasted no time spearheading the charge as the duo scored 15 of New Boston’s 20 points in the third quarter of action.
The former, who gobbled up an amazing 23 points and 17 rebounds in the contest, put together an amazing display in the third frame by draining three three-pointers en route to 11 points on his own in the quarter. His three-pointer with 56 seconds left in the third quarter broke six ties or lead changes as the Tigers took a 49-48 lead after three quarters of action.
“They have taken a lot of losses,” Cox said. “They have taken a lot on the chin. They’re determined. They have a lot of confidence about them. They really do. They have a bucket list.”
“From the third quarter on, we started settling for quick shots that weren’t as good as the shots that we were getting in the first half,” Bailey said. “As the quarter went on, I thought that we were more susceptible to take ill-advised shots that allowed New Boston to knock the score down.”
But Flannery and Shope didn’t give in. At one point, the pair combined for 25 consecutive points in a row as East battled back to take leads of 50-49 and 53-50 off of five straight tallies from Flannery. However, New Boston’s Alex Meade forced Shope to do most of the workload from the 6:30 mark on, as Flannery only connected on one basket from then on out.
“Alex was our player of the game for his defensive performance,” Cox said. “Alex stepped up to the challenge. We talked all week about who was going to guard Flannery, how they needed to guard him, how good he was, and how good of a player he is. Alex really did a good job on him. Kyle had to work for everything he got, and he did. He got his and he made some big shots for them. Alex played him tough, though. I couldn’t ask for more heart out of a kid than what Alex Meade showed us tonight. That was definitely the person that set the tone tonight for us.”
Despite the 53-50 deficit, New Boston rallied back behind the play of Drake Truitt. A rebound and putback, along with an eurostep layup from the gritty forward, allowed the Tigers to take a slim one point advantage, 54-53. Truitt ultimately finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, and five assists in the contest.
“Early in the game, Drake tried to do a little bit too much, and got called for a couple of travels,” Cox said. “However, he settled down and really found a groove. Drake plays so hard that he gets caught up in the moment sometimes, but he’s a big, emotional leader for us. Having Drake is a big reason for our success. He has changed his demeanor so much to become a team player.”
However, East, who obtained a free throw from Shope to tie the score at 54 apiece, proved to be very much in the thick of things — until New Boston, once, and for all, took control. Behind an off-balance three-pointer from Caldwell, a wide-open three from the right wing by Conley, and a wide-open three from the left wing by Eddie Phipps, the Tigers went on a 9-0 burst behind the treys on back-to-back-to-back possessions to ultimately take a 63-54 advantage and put the game away for good.
“When we got into the fourth quarter, they did a good job of getting the ball to the kids that needed to get touches,” Bailey said. “We didn’t do a very good job of taking away what their players do their best at. We let a couple of kids get some open looks, and they hit threes that were big shots.”
Fittingly, Conley — the heart and soul of the unit — proved to be a key cog in willing New Boston to the victory. His astonishing 26-point, 11-rebound, and 10-assist effort was capped off by an 11-point fourth frame that helped to keep the contest in the Tigers’ control after both teams traded baskets and free throws over the final three minutes of the affair.
“Kade’s work ethic, heart, and desire are second-to-none,” Cox said. “He believes, man. He’s a big reason for our success.”
With the victory, New Boston moved to a welcoming 3-1 overall and 3-0 in SOC I action. The Tigers will take on Clay in Rosemount on Friday evening in what will be a test to see how the Tigers have their newfound success.
“We’re going to have to continue to learn to make these kinds of wins shortlived,” Cox said. “It’s the SOC. On any given night, you can get beat. We’d like to savor the moment for a day, but tomorrow, we’re right back at work getting ready for Clay on Friday evening. These kids will have to continue to learn and adjust.”
As for East, the Tartans, who fell to 1-2 overall and in SOC I action with the loss, still have time to regroup. Another tough contest with Green, however, awaits in Sciotoville.
“In parts of all three games, there’s been times where we’ve played extremely well,” Bailey said. “However, we’ve also kind of went through a lull in each game. We’ve got to find a way to cut that bad quarter out or that bad stretch of a half of a quarter out. If we can do that, we’ll have a chance to be much more successful.”