Legends are born in the Massachusetts state basketball tournament.
On any given night a student-athlete can produce something extraordinary, a performance that will be remembered for a long time and rehashed at every class reunion.
Anthony Hatzisavas, a 6-foot-3-inch senior who has battled his way back from herniated disc (back) surgery, had one of those awe-inspiring efforts Tuesday night that helped keep alive the dream of a state championship for coach Dave Brown’s overachieving basketball team.
How do 22 points, 17 rebounds, and five blocked shots sound? Those were the statistical gems that Hatzisavas authored in a decisive 71-58 victory over a pesky Georgetown team that refused to go away in a Division 4 North semifinal at Roy G. Finn Gymnasium in Malden.
Michael Griffin, drawing from his older brother Anthony’s book of clutch outside shooting, had 16 points while Quinton Dale coolly took care of business down the stretch by scoring 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter.
Taj Generazzo remained calm in the face of Georgetown’s intense defensive pressure to score seven points, highlighting his effort with some crisp no-look passes. J.P. Doherty contributed six points, including a three-pointer, while Joe D’Amore had five points and made the single biggest defensive play by taking an offensive charge during a crucial point of the game.
But it was Anthony Hatzisavas who had the Georgetown frontcourt looking for answers and Royals coach Mike Rowinski singing his praises after the game.
“We had a good scouting report on him [Hatzisavas] and he didn’t do anything fancy except he hurt us all night on the boards,” said Rowinski. “He was definitely the difference in the ballgame. It seems like he let his team get second chances and more importantly he kept our center [Neph Camona] off the boards. They limited us to a lot of one-shot opportunities.”
The Vikings put 19 points on the board in the first quarter, culminated by Doherty’s three-pointer. On several occasions, it looked like the Vikings might turn a nip-and-tuck affair into a rout. But Georgetown hung tough in the first half (Winthrop led, 36-30, at the break), thanks to some long-range successes by Georgetown guard Johnny Spears.
But Griffin put the diamond into the diamond-and-one defense in the second half and held Spears in check. When D’Amore made a steal and dribbled the length of the court for a layup, the Vikings led 48-37 late in the third quarter. But the Royals closed with a 7-2 surge to slice the margin to 50-44.
Generazzo’s steal and layup maintained the lead at 52-48, but Georgetown surrounded a Doherty free throw with four points to make it a one-point (53-52) game with 4:28 left.
Who would step up? Winthrop’s big men, that’s who. Hatzisavas cleaned the glass for successive baskets and made it 57-52. That’s when D’Amore held his ground and drew an offensive foul from a Georgetown player. Dale took control in the final minutes, scoring three baskets (two on assists from Generazzo and Griffin) and four free throws to help Winthrop put the game in the win column.
Dave Brown, who’s been in some barnburners in his coaching career, was proud of his team’s late kick.
“We work hard in practice and we know we have legs toward the end of the game,” said Brown. “Georgetown is a very good basketball team. We went on some runs early and they kept fighting their way back. We made some shots late and some defensive stops. A big possession was when they came down on the break and D’Amore took a charge. That was huge – a big momentum swinger. Q (Dale) made some finishes around the rim and finished with a quiet 15 points. He’s been averaging 20 points and 18 rebound in the tournament so far.”
Brown then turned his attention to Hatzisavas in his post-game remarks.
“Hatzisavas was the difference in tonight’s game, though,” said Brown. “We knew we had a size advantage down low. He had 22 points and 17 rebounds and that was definitely the difference in the game.”
Hatzisavas felt his team’s overall intensity was a key factor in the game.
“I feel we went at it a lot harder and outrebounded them,” said Hatzisavas, who will be making his fourth appearance in a Division 4 North final. “Our team effort was amazing the whole game. I’m very excited about what’s happening here.”
Pointing to the locker room behind him, Hatzisavas said, “I love those guys inside that room. They’re amazing. We want to win the title.”
Winthrop will play St. Mary’s in the Division 4 North final Saturday at Tsongas Center in Lowell. The winner of that game will play in the state championship game at the TD Garden.