NORTH ADAMS, Mass - The Drury Blue Devils are no strangers to the playoffs. The club has been playoff regulars the last several years, and that experience proved to be very valuable in Friday night’s Western Mass quarter-final playoff.
Drury hosted a hungry and aggressive opponent Friday at Bucky Bullet Gymnasium in the Turners Falls Thunder, and it brought out the best in the Blue Devils. They proved up to the challenge, catching fire in the second half on the way to a 66-57 victory.
The Blue Devils (14-7) advance to the Western Mass semi-finals at The Cage at the University of Massachusetts. This is a place that the current group of players have come to call home.
“I didn’t want to end my season at home; I wanted to go to my other home, which is The Cage,” senior Scott McGuire said. “I’ve been there for four years and it’s such a grind. It’s just great to go down there and play. It is a great atmosphere, and being back at it with my guys is just great.”
McGuire was the spark plug all night, just as he has been throughout his entire illustrious career with the Blue Devils. The senior scoring-leader stayed involved all night and contributed in every way, finishing with 19 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, five steals and two blocked shots.
“We’ve been practicing for nine days beating up on each other; not having another color jersey in front of us for nine days was tough. We came out here and started slow, we picked it up in the second half and made adjustments, and we pulled through,” McGuire said. “It feels great, because The Cage has always been our home and we’ve been there every year. It feels great to go back this year.”
Every one of the Blue Devils stepped up to contribute to the win. While McGuire is a special player who will go down as perhaps the greatest Blue Devil of all time, it was the team that was special on Friday night. Playing in front of a packed house of devoted home fans, this veteran Blue Devils squad delivered.
“For me, Scott, Keegan, Dante, the seniors, we’ve been here before,” senior Hunter Sarkis said. “It was a bit
shaky for the newer guys, because it is tough playing in this atmosphere. It was really exciting, we were going back and forth, and the noise in here really echoes all around. That’s how you know it is playoff time.”
The nine days off likely played a role in the team getting off to a slow start, as Drury found itself trailing 14-2 late in the first quarter. Turners Falls got off to a fast start thanks to an up-tempo attack, and their early outside shooting resulted in four three-pointers that helped stake the lead.
But this is a style of play that perfectly suits the Blue Devils. Once they started getting the shots to fall to compliment their effort, the momentum began to swing.
“It’s really exciting and we love to play at a fast pace as it is,” Sarkis said. “They came out strong and we came out strong, both the crowds were in it, and I guess that is just the payoff atmosphere.”
Just as it did at the end of every quarter, Drury closed out the first quarter strong. The team went on an 8-1 run to end the first, and extended that to a 13-1 run that gave them the lead back when McGuire sunk a floater in front of the hoop with 6:20 remaining in the first half.
The two sides see-sawed for control the rest of the way to the break, with Drury holding a slim 30-29 halftime advantage.
That tug-of-war continued deep into the third quarter, until Drury seized control for good over the final two minutes. Holding a 42-41 lead, Louis Guilotte delivered a sequence of big plays for his team. First he blocked a shot, grabbed the rebound and eventually sunk a three-pointer from the corner to cap the possession, and then he followed that up by converting off a turnover with a layup on an inside move to the basket.
“Their big guy had three or four fouls and we wanted to keep attacking and get him out of the game,” McGuire said. “If shots are not going for us we want to get to the hoop as much as possible, and we have
ability to do that with Tim Brazeau and Pooky [Guilotte] down low running the high-low and getting wide-open looks. It is great to play down low.”
McGuire then added a three-point play when he grabbed a defensive rebound, pushed the ball strong across the court, sunk his layup despite being fouled and then also converted the free throw to make it a 50-41 Drury advantage.
“At halftime we talked about rebounds and getting out, and our defense,” McGuire said. “We grind our defense out, and Drury is about defense. That’s all we do at practice is we grind out where we are supposed to be and what we’re supposed to do. We want teams to have turnovers and late in the game we picked it up and really put pressure on them, and it really helped us out.”
The Blue Devils were clicking on all cylinders down the stretch, as they kept the lead in double digits and maintained control to the conclusion. McGuire made the extra pass that fed a wide-open Tim Brazeau under the hoop for an easy layup that made it a 14-point lead at 59-45 with 5:08 left to play.
Brazeau finished with 10 points and five rebounds.
The defense never let its foot off the gas, which was highlighted when Guilotte hustled to block a shot attempt with his club leading by 13 points and only three minutes remaining. Guilotte closed with a team-
high 20 points and seven rebounds.
Keegan Vidal chipped in with nine points, four rebounds and two steals, while making invaluable contributions up-and-down the court all night long. Sarkis added a three-pointer, three rebounds and two steals.
Having now enjoyed the taste of playoff victory, it only leaves the Blue Devils hungrier for more.
“It feels amazing, but we know we still have more games to go. Our goal is the championship and we’re going to keep busting in practice,” senior Hunter Sarkis said. “But yeah, it feels really good to win, though. Coach was excited and my teammates were excited, and it feels good.”