GROTON — The key to Groton-Dunstable’s 64-53 win over North Middlesex was in the eye of the beholder. For a Groton-Dunstable fan, the difference was the career nights that Cam Willcox and Pat McKinney enjoyed. For a North Middlesex fan, it was the officiating, or lack thereof. But the Crusaders prevailed to improve to 4-1 for the season.
“Cam had a huge game for us and was big both offensively and defensively,” said Groton-Dunstable coach Keith Woods. “Pat played great and hit some big shots for us. This was a nice win for us to get heading into league play and to get that type of night from Cam and Pat is big.”
For Patriots coach Eric Dellasanta, it was a close one that got away.
“We battled all night and gave it what we had but we just came up short in the end,” said Dellasanta. “I thought we had some issues defensively in the first half but adjusted to it well in the second half. This was a game we could have won. Give Groton-Dunstable credit, they knocked down their free throws.”
The Crusaders held edges in most categories in the game, including a 33-29 advantage off the boards, but the one telling number was their 29-8 edge in free throws attempted.
Things got off to a frantic start as both teams couldn’t miss in the early going. The Crusaders got five points early on from Ryan Romich while North Middlesex got four points from Zach Trust as the teams battled to a 9-9 tie just two and a half minutes into the game.
Holding a one point lead at 12-11, Groton-Dunstable opened a little breathing room with a 7-0 run. McKinney drained a three-pointer while Romich added a lay-up and two free throws to give the Crusaders a 19-11 advantage.
Another Groton-Dunstable run, keyed by six consecutive points by Ricky Akins, put the Crusaders on top 34-20.
North Middlesex regained some momentum heading into the break with a 7-1 run over the final minute and a half. Nate Moore was the key, hitting a trey and setting up a short jumper by Kyle Miklinevich that made it 35-27 heading into the intermission.
With both point guards (Derek McCaffrey of G-D and Ryan Woodward of NM) saddled with foul trouble in the third quarter, points were at a premium and a 10-6 edge for the Crusaders gave them a 45-33 lead heading to the final quarter.
The offensive flow returned when the point guards came back on the floor and the Patriots climbed back in it with a 15-6 run. Miklinevich scored four points while Woodward added three as the lead was sliced to three with 2:57 left to play.
McCaffrey proved to be the closer though as he led his team down the stretch. The sophomore point guard knocked down a pull-up 15-footer and added assists on a McKinney trey and a Wilcox lay-in as part of a 13-5 game-closing spurt.
“We got another great effort from Ryan and Derek did an outstanding job running the offense once again,” said Woods. "Mike Silinonte also got his first minutes of the season. We have some things to work on, but I am happy with our start.”
McKinney led the Crusaders with 17 points. Romich (17 rebounds, four steals and two blocked shots) and Wilcox (seven boards) each added 16 points. Akins chipped in eight points and six rebounds while McCaffrey had five points and nine assists.
“Ryan Woodward was outstanding tonight and we struggled with him in foul trouble,” said Dellasanta. “Kyle came off the bench and gave us a great effort and Zach hit some shots tonight. We will build off this and get better.”
Trust paced North Middlesex with 15 points. Miklinevich finished with 11 points. Woodward added nine points while Nate Jackson (nine rebounds) and Moore (three assists) chipped in eight points apiece.