By Matt Jenkins
---- — In the Paint
It was probably a tough call to make. But Masconomet boys basketball coach Frank Shea felt that if the Chieftains were going to get better, junior guard Jake Rudolph had to be better.
Keep in mind that as the Chieftains got off to a 1-5 start, Rudolph was doing his part by leading the team in scoring.
“If you go back to the first six games he was right around 20 (points) a game. He had a 20-point game, a 22-point game, but then he’d have a nine-point game and a 15-point game,” Shea said. “I took him aside and told him we needed more from him.
“Since then, it’s not only been him, but the team has bought in and they’re trying to get him more looks. So far it’s paying off.”
At his coach’s request, Rudolph became more aggressive -- and the results have been obvious. Masco has won six of its last seven games and now stands at 7-6.
Rudolph, a 5-foot-11 combo guard with a smooth stroke, has been virtually unstoppable since then.
In his last four games, Rudolph is averaging nearly 33 points per game. He dropped a career-high 44 in an overtime win over Georgetown last week and followed it with 30 (against Rockport), 29 (against Manchester Essex) and 28 (against Newburyport), all while seeing specialty defenses and double teams.
“He sees the team’s best defenders for sure and some teams are trying to trap when he gets the ball. Other teams are really physical with him,” Shea said. “Newburyport traditionally plays really good defense and in the first half, he had six (shot) attempts. I told him, ‘We can’t win with you having 12 attempts.’ I could even live with him forcing a couple to loosen the defense a little.”
Rudolph was up for the challenge of taking more shots. He put a lot of work in over the summer to improve his offensive game, and he continues to work hard in-season.
Still, even he’s a little surprised with what he’s been able to do on the court the second half of the season.
“The most surprising part of the 44-point game was at halftime one of the kids said, ‘Jake, you have 31 points.’ I looked up and said, ‘What did you say?’ I couldn’t believe it. We only had 39 at the half,” said Rudolph, who is now averaging 25 points per game. “Guys have really worked hard setting picks for me like Kevin Martin and Alex Spaulding. They’re always telling me to come off screens and are really behind me.”
Player and coach both agree that the high-scoring performances are as much about Rudolph’s teammates as they are about his tremendous offensive skills.
“I think a lot of credit has to go to the other kids on the team. They have an understanding that we need him to be our leading guy and they’ve really bought in and do other things — rebound, take charges, get on the floor for loose balls,” Shea said. “Even if Jake scores 30 it’s not enough; they have to pitch in and do the little things. It kind of gave everybody a role on the team. These last 6-8 games, the kids are starting to understand.”
The way things started this season, Shea was feeling like he was re-living last year.
A year ago, Masco started slow and turned it around midseason, only to slip down the stretch and miss qualifying for the tournament by one game. That serves as a reminder that this year’s Chieftains still need three more wins to reach the postseason.
“That left a bad taste. We started 1-5 and it was a little bit like ‘Here we go again’,” Shea said.
“Now we’ve crawled out of it and we have to stay focused on one game at a time. Nothing is guaranteed. We have a really good group of kids and I’d like to get them back to the tourney. We want to keep battling and getting better.”
Even though Rudolph is riding a hot streak, he knows he has to keep grinding and keep getting better, too. Defenses are geared to stop him now, and there’s no time for rest.
Masco hopes to keep streaking tonight at Pentucket (6:30 p.m.).
“We’re feeling confident, but we want to get the win and get closer to qualifying for states,” Rudolph said.
Danvers senior Mark McCarthy might be the best “under the radar” player on the North Shore right now. The Falcons have surprised some with their 11-2 record thus far because there were so many open spots this season after capturing back-to-back Division 3 state championships. McCarthy seemingly had the biggest shoes to fill, replacing Eric Martin at point guard.
McCarthy saw very few minutes last year and figured to be pushed for playing time by freshman Devonn Allen. But McCarthy has done a good job handling the ball for Danvers, which has allowed Allen to put a lot of his focus on playing strong defense as he gets acclimated to the varsity level.
McCarthy has shooting range out to the 3-point line and is fearless going to the hoop.
Peabody is riding high with a four-game win streak that has allowed it to crawl back into tournament contention. Sitting at 3-8, the Tanners have turned it around by defeating Bishop Fenwick, Swampscott, Revere and North Shore Tech to move to 7-8.
Junior guard Matt Correale seemed to jump-start the Tanners with his two best scoring games in wins over Fenwick and Swampscott. Since then, Peabody has been getting balanced scoring from Brian Onessimo, Jared McCarron and freshman Matt D’Amato.
The biggest issue facing Peabody now is its remaining schedule. Needing to win three of its final five games, Peabody is up against it with a very tough schedule: Lynn English (tonight at home), Lynn Classical (Friday on the road), Salem (next Tuesday on the road), Beverly (next Thursday at home), and Ipswich (Monday, Feb. 17 on the road).
In The Paint, a column on North Shore boys’ basketball, runs every Tuesday during the winter sports season in The Salem News. Contact staff writer Matt Jenkins at 978-338-2648, by e-mail at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @MattJenkins_SN.