By Jean DePlacido
---- — DANVERS — John Dullea got his first win as St. John’s Prep head coach, but there were times in the fourth quarter when he wondered if that big lead his team had built up in the first half was going to be enough.
After Classical got off to a terrible start, scoring only six points in the opening quarter, they fought back and made it a game. A late rally fell short as the Rams were able to pull within two points twice in the final quarter, but each time St. John’s answered with a big basket to keep the lead they had established early and never would relinquish on their way to a 67-60 win.
“I’ve been here as an assistant (under Sean Connolly), but it’s totally different when you’re the head coach,” said Dullea. “I had a lot of anxiety and nerves leading up to the game. Getting a win is great, but It didn’t come easy. Classical is a very physical, athletic team, and they made a bunch of tough shots. I don’t know how some of them went in.
“They also had 28 offensive rebounds, and that can’t happen. We pride ourselves on defense, but they were beating us one-on-one at times. We had a lapse in the second quarter and let them get back in it.”
Everything went right for the Eagles early in the game, and at the end of the first quarter they had an 11 point cushion, 17-6 led by Ben Judson, who had a game high 23 points and Mike Bisson (13). They increased the lead to 16 points early in the second quarter, but the Rams fought back and cut it to nine at the half.
In the early going the Eagles were running Classical off the court and aggressively taking the ball to the hoop, but a 9-2 run by the visitors before Judson made a three-pointer in the final seconds, cut the lead to 34-25 at the half.
“We were up 24-8, but they scored 17 points in the final four minutes of the second quarter,” said Dullea. “It was close the whole second half, but we managed to hold them off. Jake Burt had a bunch of rebounds, especially late in the game.”
Junior point guard Kareem Davis had a huge game for the Eagles. The transfer from Lowell scored 19 points and had a team high eight assists. He did a great job running the offense and took care of the ball.
“He ran the show for us,” said Dullea. “His play was huge; everything we ask him for he does, and is a good leader. Tonight he got into foul trouble, and we had to take him out for a blow, but he had a terrific game. He gets in the lane and is very shifty, very quick.
“Judson is more aggressive this year, and we need him to take the ball to the basket the way he did. Bisson also did a nice job and had 11 rebounds. He’s very tough to contain and plays great defense. This was a nice win against a good team.”
It was run and gun in the fourth quarter as both teams raced up and down the court. Classical cut it to two points with just over six minutes remaining after Ronnie Williams (10 points) hit a layup, but Judson made a pair from the charity stripe and then hit a driving layup to build the lead back up to six points, 52-46.
It was Davis, who put the game away for the Eagles with a basket and four foul shots in the final 1:46.
“That point guard they picked up from Lowell is a real good player,” said Classical coach Tom Grassa. “We had a difficult time containing him; he’s excellent and controlled the offense.
“We got off to a terrible start, but I am really happy with the effort and ability the kids had in coming back to make it a game. This had all the makings of a blowout, but they didn’t lay down. We were immensely better in the last three quarters, but we dug ourselves a big hole early on. We got a solid contribution from everybody. St. John’s is an excellent team, and they shot the ball well.”