WHITINSVILLE — A familiar problem for the Groton-Dunstable boys basketball team popped its head up at a most inopportune time. All season long, the Crusaders have struggled on the boards, and on Thursday night it was the key reason its season came to an end. Northbridge finished the night with a 40-32 advantage in rebounding, including a staggering 21 offensive rebounds leading to a number of second-chance baskets to key a 59-51 District quarterfinal victory.
“We have stressed rebounding from day one and tonight it was the difference,” said Groton-Dunstable coach Keith Woods. “To give up that many offensive rebounds to a good team is just unacceptable. There were possessions where we played great defense, but then gave up a lay-up on an offensive rebound and it nullified all the good we did.”
With the scored tied at 4-4, the Crusaders closed out the first quarter on a 9-2 run to grab an early lead. Five different players scored during the stretch, including Kyle Romich, who hit a pull-up 15-foot jumper and then made a great feed to Will Peregoy for a lay-in that made it 13-6 after eight minutes of play.
The lead continued to grow, hitting 10 when Brian Murphy knocked down a three-pointer off a Liam Barberich look to make it 22-12. It seemed that Groton-Dunstable was in control, but a couple of foul calls changed that. Romich picked up his third foul with 2:45 to play and the lead at eight at 24-16. Over the remainder of the half, the Rams took advantage, scoring nine of the final 12 points.
After being shut down early by the triangle-and-two, Corey Pryor (23 points, nine rebounds) got on track with an offensive rebound and put-back along with a three from the right side. Harrison Murphy (13 points, nine boards) converted an offensive rebound into a lay-up while adding a pair of free throws as Northbridge drew to within two at 27-25 heading into the break.
“We had a lot of success with the triangle-and-two in the first half and it led to some turnovers that gave us an early lead,” said Woods. “There were some breakdowns late in the second quarter and gave them the momentum heading into the third quarter.”
That momentum increased when Romich picked up his fourth foul just over a minute into the second half, sparking an 11-0 Rams run. Pryor caught fire, knocking down a pair of three-pointers along with a single free throw while Alex Cone added a running five-foot jumper that gave Northbridge a 36-27 lead.
It took the Crusaders until the 1:36 mark of the third quarter to score, as they committed nine turnovers before finally getting a three-point play from Nate Pomeroy to draw within six at 36-30. Pryor closed out the scoring in the quarter with a driving lay-up that extended the advantage to nine at 41-32.
In that third quarter, the game swung due to sloppy ball-handling by Groton-Dunstable and dominance on the boards by the Rams. Behind eight offensive rebounds that led to nine second-chance points, Northbridge outscored the Crusaders 16-5 to gain control of the game.
Pryor continued his solid play, setting up a Murphy lay-up before hitting one of his own to make it 50-34. It seemed as if the game was in control, but Groton-Dunstable made a little run to put a scare into the hosts.
Liljegren hit for five points on a three-pointer from the corner and a pair of free throws while Peregoy added a steal and lay-up to cap off a 13-3 run and draw the Crusaders within six at 53-47. It would get no closer though, as Pryor hit four free throws in the last minute to seal the deal and advance the Rams into the semi-finals.
“You have to give Northbridge credit, they came out and executed in the second half and we did not,” said Woods. “We had some chances to get back into it and the kids made a great run, we just didn’t have enough to get all the way back.”
Peregoy led Groton-Dunstable with 14 points and six rebounds. Romich finished with eight points and four assists while Liljegren chipped in seven points.
“I am extremely proud of this team and all they accomplished this season,” said Woods. “Losing as much as we did from last year’s squad, we didn’t have a lot of expectations on us and to have as good of a season as we did is a testament to how hard the kids worked.”