, Newburyport, MA

January 24, 2014

Taking to the Garden

Tim Lima
On Basketball

---- — It’s a building built in 1995, but its name encompasses history of decades past. It’s the Boston Garden: an arena that Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Bill Russell called home. It’s a court still sticky from the Gatorade that Doc Rivers bathed in after the Celtics earned banner 17. And tomorrow, it will host Triton Regional High.

“Everyone that our kids have watched growing up have played on that floor,” said Triton coach David Clay. “It’s a floor that Kevin Durant will play on the night before we do. The kids are very excited about it and it’s something they’ll never forget.”

Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder will play at the Garden tonight, while Triton will have its game against Bishop Fenwick tomorrow morning at 10.

It’s a game that has long been anticipated, for it was scheduled before the school year even began. The game will be played as part of The Good Sports TD Garden Invitational Tournament, which will include 14 Massachusetts boys basketball teams.

Despite being in different leagues and rarely competing against each other, the Vikings (3-7) and Crusaders (7-6) are two teams that are far from strangers.

“Throughout the fall we have open gyms, and we were sick of playing against ourselves, so we invited their kids in to play with and against us,” Clay said. “It started as a rivalry, and now it is a friendship that extends well beyond basketball.”

Though Fenwick and Triton are close, the Vikings are approaching this game with determination. They have lost their previous five games, though largely have outplayed their opponents in nearly every facet. For Clay’s team, it’s turnovers that have been their Achilles’ heel.

“We are coughing up the ball about 20 times per game,” Clay said. “It’s been hurting us. I went through our stats. Our field goal percentage and 3-point shooting percentage has been better than the teams we have played, and we have also had more offensive and defensive rebounds than them. But, we are giving the ball up seven more times than the other team. We cough it up, and they score and it’s a four-point swing, and we are losing close games because of it.”

For senior Bradley Whitman, there is no better location to re-enter the win column than the Garden. If the Vikings fail at doing so, it won’t be because of a lack of desire.

“The last two games we have figured out that we played with heart and passion, so that’s there,” Whitman said. “We just have to control the ball better and communicate better on defense. If we do that we will probably be successful, because that’s really all that’s holding us back.”

In the previous five games, Triton has fallen by an average of just 6.8 points, including a two-point loss to North Reading and a four-point loss to a Manchester Essex team that sits atop the Cape Ann League’s Baker Division.

The Vikings will undoubtedly have a strong task at hand tomorrow, as the Crusaders continue toward their goal of qualifying for the MIAA State Tournament. Needing 10 wins to punch their ticket, Fenwick sits just three games short.

“They have a lot of good, skilled players and are a senior-heavy team,” Clay said.

“They trap a lot. That’s an area where we have been vulnerable and why we have coughed the ball up the majority of the time. This week we have practiced how to get out of them.”

Win or lose, it’s a game that everyone involved won’t soon forget.

For Whitman, one of just two seniors on his team, it’s an opportunity to create lasting memories in his final season wearing the blue and white jersey.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I’m going to make the most of it and enjoy it with my teammates,” Whitman said. “Obviously there’s a lot of history in that arena. The Celtics won so many championships there. It will be a cool atmosphere for a high school player to be in.”