Playing on the biggest stage in Massachusetts high school basketball, the Lynn English boys basketball team was more than equal to the spotlight.
Coach Antonio Anderson’s Bulldogs are returning to the state finals after an impressive 74-58 victory over Mansfield in the Division 1 semifinal Tuesday night at the TD Garden.
The well-behaved and enthusiastic English rooting section, with Principal Thomas Strangie and AD Dick Newton at courtside were treated to an exhibition of interior strength and backcourt excellence by the Bulldogs.
The dunks by the English’s towers of power – Jean-Baptiste Mukeba (20 points) and AdemideBadmus (8 points, 12 rebounds) – were spectacular. But the sheer brilliance of English’s backcourt of Jack Rodriguez (20 points) and Jarnel Guzman (19 points) was awe-inspiring.
With the Mansfield defense collapsing on the English big men, Rodriguez and Guzman consistently found a path to the basket. When the shots didn’t fall, Badmus and Mukeba were often there to convert their offensive rebounds.
Meanwhile, Mason Jean-Baptiste played his usual two-way game with authority while Louis Rivera (5 points) responded with an exceptional effort off the bench. Rivera hit a key three-pointer in the second quarter to help English build a 38-26 lead at the half.
Rodriguez brought the offensive pressure on the Hornets in the second half, scoring 12 points and delivering five assists. Aaron Vizcaino had two free throws in the game.
Anderson, who knows what multiple, double-figure scoring performances mean in big games from his own days at Tech and Memphis, liked what he saw from his offense.
“That’s what they have been doing all season – on any given night, our guys can step up and make plays, so it’s hard to key on one guy,” said Anderson. “They trust one another and at the end of the day, you have a group of guys who believe in one another and know that anyone can make a shot or get to the basket.”
Anderson said once the players took a step back from being in awe of the Garden, good things began to happen.
“Once things settled down a bit, we were able to slow Mansfield down a bit and get out on transition, we were able to do that most of the game and that gave us a little bit of a cushion and we were able to put things away,” said Anderson.
Anderson said the team is having fun and it’s an honor to be representing the school and the city.
“It’s awesome to still be playing basketball,” said Anderson. “Anytime you can one of the few schools left that are practicing and playing, it’s a good feeling. These guys are hungry and they want to win [a state title] again and we have a chance to do it on Saturday.”
Guzman, Rodriguez were a formidable duo
They’re close friends off the court and a dynamic duo on the court.
Jack Rodriguez, whose miraculous performance in overtime in Lynn English’s 73-63 victory over Lowell in the Division 1 North final is the stuff of legend, and Jarnell Guzman, who’s become one of the best guards in the state under the watchful eye of Coach Antonio Anderson, combined for 39 points and 10 assists in the win over Mansfield Tuesday night at the Garden.
Guzman said the team is playing unselfish basketball and has its sights on a state championship.
“We came this far, this is our goal to get here, and now we just have to finish, play hard, take on defense, and if we do that – Saturday will be good,” said Guzman,
Guzman praised his backcourt partner, Rodriguez.
“I love playing basketball with Jack,” said Guzman. “Some teams may go to the box and one on me, but I can just kick it out to my teammates and everybody on the team can score. Working with Jack in the backcourt is amazing. He knows what I’m good at and I know what he’s good at and it just makes the job easier. And Mason [Jean-Baptiste] is a big part of our backcourt rotation and we trust him a lot.”
Rodriguez talked about playing in the Garden for the second year in a row.
“We’ve been here before, last year, of course, we were in awe because it’s the Garden and it’s where all our NBA idols step on the court, but we know we came here with a goal and a purpose and I’m excited to advance to the next round,” said Rodriguez.
Asked about teaming up with Janell Guzman, Rodriguez replied, “He’s one of my best friends off the court, so it’s kind of easy to click with him on the court. It feels like we’ve been playing [for English] forever, but it’s only been two years. I’m looking forward to Saturday, I can’t wait.”