In a season filled with inconsistent performances, the Cushing Academy boys basketball team may be peaking at just the right time. Playing arguably its most complete game thus far, the Penguins cruised past Brimmer & May School, 95-66, in Wednesday afternoon’s quarterfinal contest.
Next up for the Penguins is a rematch with Kimball Union Academy — the team that handed them their first loss of the season, 61-58, back on Jan. 12. On Wednesday, the Wildcats defeated Vermont Academy, 59-57, in another quarterfinal match-up.
Cushing and KUA are scheduled to meet in the semifinals on Friday, March 1 (6:00 pm) at Groton School.
KUA is “incredibly well-coached and they play incredibly hard,” said Cushing coach Barry Connors after his team improved to 22-5. “They play incredibly well together. I think they’re a team — don’t get me wrong they have talent . . . they HAVE talent — but I think they’re a team where the whole is greater than the sum of their parts.
“We went up to see them at their place in early January and quite frankly they beat us soundly. The scoreboard would say otherwise, but they beat us soundly. They were up 15 when their stud — the point guard (Devon) Thomas going to Missouri State — when he fouled out. And me being the genius that I am, I didn’t start pressing until five minutes later. And that’s what was able to get that game back within reach.”
Against Brimmer & May, Cushing used a commanding 30-7 run over the last 8:44 of the first half to turn a slim one-point lead into an insurmountable 47-23 halftime advantage.
Offensively, the Penguins repeatedly moved the ball until the best shot presented itself. Oftentimes this unselfishness resulted in all five players touching the ball; layups and uncontested jump shots and 3-pointers followed.
With 12 first-half points each, 6-foot-7 senior forward Andrew Chrabasccz (17 points) and 6-foot-3 junior guard Idris Taqqee (23 points) were the biggest beneficiaries.
“When everybody makes the extra pass we’re definitely a hard team to beat, (especially) when everybody is in attack mode,” said junior point guard Kaleb Joseph, who finished with 6 points. “Earlier in the year — when we were having trouble — I was trying to tell my wing players when they get it don’t settle for the outside shot.
“We’ve got to get it inside (and) work inside-out. When we get it into Andrew, he has a high basketball IQ so he knows when to pass it out and when not to.”
Cushing effectively sealed the win when it opened the second half on a 9-0 run to stretch its lead to 56-23 before Brimmer & May called a timeout.
Six-foot-six senior forward Matt Mareno (18 points) also played a big role for the Penguins, who were without their starting sophomore shooting guard, Jalen Adams, for the fourth-straight game, all Cushing victories. The Roxbury,MA-native is expected back for Friday’s game against KUA.
“When we play as well as we just did the last couple games without Jalen, imagine what happens when we get him back in the fold,” said Connors. “He’s a terrific kid. He’s a terrific player. We’re better with him in the mix.”
Though the Gators were never able to cut the deficit below 25 points, they played hard and inspired basketball until the very end. Brimmer & May was led offensively by senior forward John Powell (19 points), senior guard Adrian Oliveira (20 points) and junior guard Sammy Mojica Jr. (12 points).
With top-seeded Worcester Academy being upset by St. Andrews (RI) School, 75-69, in OT and Tilton School eking out a 72-65 comeback win over Marianapolis Prep (CT) in other quarterfinals action, there is reason for increased optimism among the Cushing squad.
“We’ve got as good a shot as anybody to win this thing,” said Connors.
Our “performance today did not happen by accident. That level of effort and that level of intensity, we made that happen. None of these teams from one to eight — as shown by St. Andrews beating Worcester — none of these games are going to be walkovers. You have to absolutely bring it or you’re going home.”
With a strong turnout expected for Friday’s game at Groton — a campus roughly 24 miles from Cushing — it’s more than likely the Penguins will have the benefits of a home game-like crowd.
“Everybody’s going to be there,” said Joseph with an ear-to-ear grin that revealed just what sort of advantage it might give him and his teammates. “It should be a good one. I’m excited.”
Paul Lazdowski is the newest member of the NHSportsPage.com writing staff. Paul is a lifelong Bostonian with a penchant for sharing his strong opinions on all that is right and wrong with the professional and collegiate sports worlds. His voice is boisterous; his passions run deep. He is an avid basketball loyalist, who has been known to go on long walks only to stumble upon a park where he then proceeds to dissect a pick-up basketball game.