GROTON — When North Middlesex and Groton-Dunstable go toe-to-toe, fans can be assured that they will be treated to a dandy of a game.
North Middlesex emerged victorious in Tuesday night’s 68-54 win over a feisty Groton-Dunstable side, which refused to go away.
The Patriots,much like many teams across the state, have been out of practice since Sunday due to yet another large storm on Monday.
North Middlesex head coach Justin Maly was worried about what kind of mindset his men would come into the game with having had two days off from practice and a snow day on Monday.
“We were coming off a tough loss at Nashoba on Friday,” he said. “My biggest question was how were we going to respond today? We will take the effort we got tonight any time — this is a fantastic win. These are a really good group of kids.”
Junior Richie Sharp had a monster night for the Patriots with 25 points,12 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks.
Senior captain Drew Patno was not too far behind scoring 19 points, 13 rebounds, all while dishing out six dimes in the win.
On the flip-side, sophomore Tyler LeClerc canned a team-high 17 points — shooting five-of-seven from three-point range.
North Middlesex used a 13-3 run midway through the fourth quarter to pull away from its counterparts from Groton-Dunstable.
How’s NM get it done? With its stingy defense.
“Nothing beats a Groton-Dunstable/North Middlesex rivalry game,” Maly said following the win. “I told the kids at halftime that their defensive effort would not show up in the box score. Nate Sullivan did a tremendous job on Corey Romich and forced him to take some tough shots. I told him after the game that he won the game for us. We forced G-D to take a lot of bad shots which really opened up our rebounding game. I cannot ask for a better effort from this team.”
The first quarter was a track meet of sorts, as both teams came out feeding off the energy from the raucous student sections. Neither team could create any breathing room. LeClerc nailed a three-pointer to break a 6-6 tie early in the quarter, but it was not long before the Patriots dialed up an answer. Sharp, two possessions later, nailed both free throws and freshman guard Zach Collins swiped the ball under the basket and scored on a fastbreak layup to give North Middlesex a 14-13 lead.
With 1:45 remaining in the quarter, LeClerc corralled a pass from Romich out in front of the Patriot bench and swished a high-arcing three to give Groton-Dunstable a 17-16 lead. Patno, then replied with a contested three-point swish of his own on the ensuing North Middlesex possession. Momentum changed hands frequently in the first frame. The Patriots took a slim 20-19 advantage into the second.
It was more of the same in the third, as Groton-Dunstable took a lead early on a three-pointer from the elbow by Romich off a chest pass from Logan Higgins. G-D’s lead never grew bigger than one point in the quarter as the relentless defensive pressure of North Middlesex created havoc for the hosts.
Senior Drew Moore (9 points) swished a three-pointer seconds before the end of the first half to bring his team within one at 30-29 after two.
The Crusaders opened the third on a 5-0 run sparked by a coast-to-coast finish by Keough and another three-pointer from the top of the key by LeClerc to push to score in Groton-Dunstable’s favor at 34-30 with 6:30 to play.
North Middlesex, however, stormed back to take the lead following a Patno three and a Collins layup.
The Patriots took a six-point lead late in the third following a Ryan MacDonald pull-up jumper and a Sharp three. LeClerc nailed a three and Keough sank a pair of freebies to trim the damage to 48-45.
Groton-Dunstable falls to 5-12 and 2-9 in the Midland A, while the Patriots bump to 11-7 overall and 7-4 in the league.