BOSTON -- Saturday's inaugural Andrew Lawson Invitational at TD Garden was bigger than basketball.
Organized by Pingree boys basketball head coach Steve Gibbs, the all day, nine-game event was put on to honor the life of the late Lawson, who passed away in February of 2018 at the age of 27 after a heroic battle with cancer.
Lawson, who had down syndrome, grew up in Norwell and was a key member of both the basketball and soccer teams in high school. He impacted and inspired everyone around him, and regularly reminded his peers of the simple joys in life.
"I told the players on Friday night that the reason we're going to play our hearts out is because of Andrew Lawson," said Gibbs, who is very close with the Lawson family.
"He was somebody who first of all brought great joy to everyone around him. In spite of his disability he never let that get in the way of being the consummate friend, the consummate teammate; he was a beacon of hope and someone who was very inspiring."
Competing in Lawson's honor, Gibbs' squad came out with tenacity and focus in their parquet tilt against Kingswood Oxford. The Highlanders raced out to an 11-0 start and never looked back, cruising to an impressive 63-47 victory.
Senior Dillon Smith was undoubtedly the player of the game, dropping a game-best 25 points including five 3-pointers in the win. Smith launched his triples -- some of which were behind the NBA 3-point line -- with confidence, drilling big shot after big shot as Pingree continued to build its lead.
Sophomore big man Cleto Chol also played well in the win, contributing 11 points -- including a two-handed breakaway slam -- and 11 rebounds. Felix Kloman also had a jaw-dropping one-handed poster jam, but it was waved off due to a charging foul. Kloman flashed plenty of other great plays in the win, finishing with nine points, eight rebounds and five assists.
In the nightcap, the Pingree girls took the Beantown floor and yielded similar results. They held a relatively comfortable 30-22 lead over opponent Ashland at the half, and wound up streaking to the finish line for a 52-37 victory. Lexi Garcia led a balanced scoring attack with 12 points, senior center Abbey Skinner was terrific in the post and added eight points total, while Madison Mandalinci (8 points), Savannah Gibbs (7 points) and Alana Richardson (6 points) also played terrific in the win.
But the night belonged to team manager Sammy Gibbs, who entered the game late in action and cashed in on a shot to top off a memorable day of hoops at TD Garden. Gibbs, who has down syndrome, has been with the Highlanders for the past four years, regularly attending practices and games with her teammates. Her father, Rob Gibbs, is the assistant to head coach Dave Latimer.
"I'm just happy for these girls; they've worked so hard and Sammy Gibbs has been with us through the thick and thin for four years now," said Latimer. "For her to have a great moment like that ... our team was so pumped yesterday when we went over it in practice and we're just so happy she could be a part of this."