Malden: The formula looked painfully too familiar to the Malden High School Golden Tornadoes for much of the game. They let Everett jump out to a big early lead, closed the gap late, took a brief lead and then watched as Everett broke their hearts with a game tying 3pt field goal with 9 seconds left. Instead of giving in to another Crimson Tide victory, Malden senior guard Rodney Morton, following a timeout, took the inbounds pass, dribbled down the left sideline and let fly a jumper from just inside the 3pt line with 3 Everett defenders jumping out at him. As the ball splashed through the net and the horn sounded, Morton turned towards a delirious Tornado student body and was enveloped in a sea of excited students. Malden 62 Everett 60.
From the outset, it appeared Everett was ready to keep their recent hot streak of five straight wins going, as they jumped out to lead of 6-0 and 9-2 to start the game. Malden though would continue to chip away at the lead and closed to within 21-18 at the end of the first quarter. The second quarter was more back and forth from the two long time rivals with Everett forward Gary Clark providing an inside presence and Malden forward Bryan Mitchell doing the same for the Tornadoes. Clark would finish with 13 rebounds for the Tide while Mitchell totaled a career-high 11 rebounds for Malden. At the half, the score was Everett 35-31. And Malden coach Don Nally was more than pleased.
"We came out, I think, a little too excited and turned the ball over against their press a bit too much.' Nally said in the empty gym an hour after the victory. "I think once we settled in and Luvenge (Francois, Malden's PG) got us into our offense, we were able to dictate the pace of the game a little better. I was really confident at halftime that, if we executed, we could win this game."
In the 3rd quarter, Malden started to swing the game their way using their 3-headed monster of a front line with Mitchell (11 points, 11 rebounds and 7 steals), sophomore Anthony Gilardi (12pts and 7 rebounds) and senior forward Jason Surpis (14 pts, 11 rebounds, 4 assists and a career-high 5 blocks) wearing down the Tide's front line. By the end of the 3rd quarter, the Tornadoes had taken their first lead of the game and were up 48-46 heading into the game's final 8 minutes.
"Our bigs really kept us in this game." junior point guard Luvenge Francois (7pts, 2 assists, 3 steals) said in the home locker room. "Jason was an absolute beast on the glass at both ends and Anthony and Bryan hit some huge shots for us in transition. When they are all playing that well, we are really tough to beat."
The teams exchanged the lead back and forth throughout the 4th quarter with Everett holding a 55-50 lead with just under 3 minutes to play. Malden would turn to its' big men to take the game over. A driving Mitchell layup cut the lead to 55-52 and after a Surpris blocked shot, Malden got the ball to Gilardi who hit a spinning jumper in the paint to close the gap to 55-54 with a little more than 2 minutes left. After a Clark layup off an offensive rebound gave the Tide a 57-54 lead, Malden turned to Surpris, who converted two free throws to cut the lead to 57-56 with a minute and a half left. Mitchell then added another steal to his night and his layup gave Malden a 58-57 lead with a little more than 50 seconds left. Everett then tried to get in position for a go ahead shot but a Francois steal gave Malden possession with 20 seconds left. Gilardi then dribbled the length of the court, missing a runner along the left baseline. But there goes that man again, Jason Surpris was there for the putback and Malden led by 3, 60-57 with 17 seconds left. Everett's Timmance McKinney then calmly drained a 3pt field goal from the right sideline near his team's bench to tie the game, setting up Morton's heroics.
"I'm so proud of our guys, not just for the win but in the way we won." Nally said. "Every guy that played gave us something and we really played such an unselfish, team basketball game. It is wins like this that make coaching worthwhile."
It is also wins like this that has a Malden team dreaming of a possible GBL title for the first time in over 25 years. Malden takes on Medford this Friday at the Finn, hoping to keep their streak going. Game time is 7pm.