Auburn 61 – Bartlett 54

By John Anderson

Monday afternoon was my first time at the Clark Tournament. I arrived early to get my press pass, and I even found a parking spot in the garage. Knellar Gymnasium is spacious and well lit, a photographer’s dream venue. Within minutes of the conclusion, someone came into the press room (yes, press room) and distributed a sheet with all the game stats, a sports writer’s dream.

During the first quarter I was wondering if I would need the press pass for a second game, if I would be able to photograph an Auburn basket (they missed their first 4 shots), and how I would write about this game. At the buzzer, Auburn was down 19-6.

Bartlett’s defense applied more pressure than the Rockets typically see, and they smothered any player with the ball. The guards barely dribbled halfway down the court before the Indians swarmed in, and there were nearly 20 turnovers in the first half alone. Mark Wright’s absence is really felt in this type of game.

I had to ask myself, “Can Bartlett maintain this pressure?” They were putting in tons of energy, and the Rockets weren’t doing a lot of running except for the occasional burst to the net.

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In this composite from consecutive photos, a Bartlett player looks for an offensive foul although he was hit by his own player. DJ Scavone is beyond him and took a shot. © John R. Anderson

DJ Scavone had 2 offensive fouls in the first quarter, but the referees fortunately recognized the Bartlett floppers.  DJ wouldn’t get called again for the balance of the game despite some quality acting. This obviously frustrated the Webster team.

At 7:37 in the second quarter, the Indians had a 15 point lead which the Rockets narrowed to 8 at the half, 31-23. More than one spectator said, “With the way they’re playing, it’s surprising we’re only down 8 points.”

Auburn nearly closed the gap in the third quarter by outscoring the Indians 16-11, and the Rockets were gaining some momentum. The third ended 42-39, still in Bartlett’s favor but not by much.

At 6:40 in the fourth, it was tied up 44-44, and baskets by Michael Jankowski and DJ Scavone put Auburn up 55-48 with under three minutes left. Back to back 3’s by Bartlett made it 55-54, but sophomore Conor Scully dropped a 3 of his own, and the Rocket lead started to climb.

The Indians love to pressure Michael Thomas, a Webster resident who school choices to Auburn, but pressure comes at a cost. Bartlett’s seventh foul put Thomas at the line where he was 1 for 2. With 14.7 seconds left, Thomas was fouled again and he shot 2 for 2. It was over, 61-54 as Auburn progressed in the Tournament and Bartlett went home.

The Bartlett pressure defense kept Auburn down, but they collected 19 personal fouls in the process and were in the bonus during both halves. Auburn

In this composite from consecutive photos, a Bartlett player looks for an offensive foul although he was hit by his own player. DJ Scavone is beyond him and took a shot. © John R. Anderson

Mike Jankowski grabs an offensive rebound. He had 22 rebounds during the game. © John R. Anderson

earned 11 points at the line and had 7 personal fouls, only one of which was a shooting foul which netted a single point.

By the fourth quarter, the Indians were tanked and just could not keep up the pressure. Meanwhile, Scavone and Jankowski stayed on the court for the full 32 minutes. Thomas and Scully each put in 30 minutes.

Auburn doubled up Bartlett on the boards 54 rebounds to 25.  Jankowski led with 22.  Scavone scored 26 points followed by Jankowski with 12. Thomas had 11 and Scully had 10.

After the game, Thomas said, “This was a huge win for us. We’re starting to roll, and the future should be exciting.” No easy wins are expected down the road.

Scavone added with a smirk, “That was quite the ball game.” Loosing Mark Wright in December “left us facing adversity. Today was about righting the ship.” He admitted the team lacked tournament experience and said Coach Niedzwiecki got all the players calmed down during half time.

Niedzwiecki understands the lack of experience. “Conor Scully looked a little shell shocked. To go from junior varsity to varsity and now starting in a tournament is a huge transition in a very short time.” Scully was one of the players who settled down very nicely in the second half, and he was 2 for 3 in 3-pointers.

This game was a great payback for the Rockets’ 50-48 loss to Bartlett in the regular season when a buzzer beater shot prevented overtime. Auburn will face Northbridge on Thursday night. The Rockets won their previous game 53-46 on January 20th.

Mike Thomas is interviewed by Channel 3 after the game. © John R. Anderson

Mike Thomas is interviewed by Channel 3 after the game. © John R. Anderson