By Matt Jenkins
---- — SALEM — Just getting to overtime felt like an escape.
How could the Salem boys basketball team survive another four minutes after letting a 12-point, fourth-quarter lead slip away by going scoreless for the final 6:11 of regulation yesterday afternoon against Lowell?
Somehow the Witches made it work, continuing to rely on their defense and getting some much-needed hoops in overtime to squeak out a 69-65 win over the Raiders.
After struggling mightily against Lowell’s zone trap in the fourth quarter and witnessing a few wacky plays down the stretch, what could Salem coach Tommy Doyle say to his team before heading to the extra session?
“That it was still our game. They brought it to overtime, but it was a new game and it was still ours to win,” Doyle said. “We stepped up defensively and got the stops we needed, then we got a few key hoops.”
Senior forward Rashad Keys shook loose for a layup 24 seconds into overtime to snap the Witches’ scoring drought and Bryan Martinez-Rodriguez converted a drive with 1:55 to play in overtime to give Salem the lead for good.
Jamie Dominguez made both ends of a 1-and-1 with four seconds left to put it away.
“We still made a few mistakes here and there in overtime,” Doyle said after his team moved to 4-1. “We’re still a work in progress. We have five new starters and day-by-day we’re getting better. The kids are playing really hard and trying to get better every day.”
Salem’s lack of experience nearly cost it a win in the fourth quarter. When it was winning time the Witches started struggling with Lowell’s 1-2-1-1, three-quarter court press, a defense it had handled in spots throughout the first three quarters.
The Witches seemed to be caught in between playing quickly for potential easy baskets and slowing it down for solid possessions. The result was turnovers and missed shots.
“They had some issues with (the press),” said first-year Lowell (5-3) coach Bobby Michalczyk, a Salem State Hall of Fame basketball player. “That allowed us to get some turnovers and get some easier transition baskets, rather than work so hard on offense in a halfcourt set.”
Lowell was dealt a huge blow in the final minutes of regulation. The Raiders appeared to have the tying basket from Andre Ruff with a chance for a three-point play and the lead, but point guard Sean Bryan was called for a foul away from the ball. The foul was Bryan’s fifth and it negated the basket.
“That was tough. He’s our starting point guard and is really good. He gets called on some bogus call to foul him out of the game, which had no bearing on the play,” Michalczyk said. “That’s a serious impact on us. That one particular play was a tough pill to swallow.”
In overtime, Lowell had a chance to tie or take the lead with less than a minute to go, but Salem forced a turnover.
The Witches built their lead in the first three quarters behind some balance. Dominguez led the way with 22 points and Martinez-Rodriguez contributed 20 points and seven rebounds. David Kazadi came through with a double-double, posting 10 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
Shakir White knocked down three triples for nine points and Keys scored all eight of his points in the second half and overtime.
Martinez-Rodriguez also played well defensively, limiting Lowell’s Dewayne Thomas to 14 points. Ruff led the Raiders with 22 and Bryan finished with 13.
“We had a good scouting report and did a nice job defensively to force them into bad shots,” Doyle said. “We had help with David and Rashad and Bryan did a really nice job against No. 11 (Thomas). The last two times we scouted him he’s had 30 and 26 points. He ended up with 14, but I thought (Martinez-Rodriguez) did an outstanding job limiting him.”