Intangibles and being coachable lead New Mission into the final

BOSTON – New Mission is almost there. One more obstacle remains. And there’s everything to play for at this point, even though the primary motive is simply winning a state title.

The Titans will head to the DCU Center on Saturday to play for the Division 2 state title after beating Milton 71-63 on Tuesday night. While Milton had the guards to make it interesting – Myles McDermott (6’0″ Jr. PG-SG), Keyon Jones (6’0″ Sr. SG) and Juwan Gooding (5’11” Jr. PG) are all college prospects – where New Mission had a clear edge was up front. Milton didn’t have anyone to match Franklin Pierce-bound Asante Sandiford (6’4″ Sr. SF) and Fred Rivers (6’4″ Sr. PF), and they were the big factors. Sandiford (11 points, seven rebounds, four assists) didn’t have his best night as he was just 1-7 from the field, but he helped Rivers (13 points, 11 rebounds) and the guards with his play.

As important as the forwards were, Shaquan Murray (6’1″ Sr. PG-SG) made a lot of big baskets and other plays like he has often this season. All season long, he’s scored when the game has been on the line. He’s this team’s best offensive player. He led them with 18 points on 6-11 shooting, and if you mention his name, his teammates light up and can’t stop talking.

“We really appreciate having him,” said the very gregarious Rivers, who can talk plenty to begin with. “Whenever we need a bucket, we can always count on Shaquan. We know Shaquan’s got that edge, that killer instinct where he just wants to do it.”

This team has great chemistry, and that’s been illustrated all season long. You hear head coach Cory McCarthy rave about them as much for their character as for their basketball. And indeed, he talks about having program as much as his current team. He spoke of his team understanding the opportunity they had on Tuesday to play in the Boston Garden, with all the history there, with its famous parquet floor, and how much that meant to the outcome of the game. They respected the opportunity they had and respected the opponent.

That goes back to McCarthy speaking of this team’s success being as much a product of taking to coaching as anything. The Titans have more talent than they have had since they won two straight state titles in 2010 and 2011 (winning in Division 4 in 2010 and Division 2 in 2011), but that isn’t all. This team is taking to coaching and winning with intangibles and balance as much as talent.

There’s also an edge with this team that starts with the coach. McCarthy has taken to Twitter to talk about it recently, noting how the city is perceived a certain way, including in media coverage. While this wasn’t a banner year in the Boston City League, that doesn’t take away from what this team has done. McCarthy took issue with some who noted an opponent being short-handed as well as not mentioning that a team in the 617 area code – which includes Boston – beat them.

“There are all these stereotypes about the city,” said McCarthy. “People say that they play ‘city basketball.’ What is ‘city basketball?’ It’s not just New Mission. West Roxbury plays quality basketball. East Boston plays quality basketball.”

And while it’s understandably not their first motivator, the players want this in part for the city, too.

“We want to win it for the city a lot, because a lot of people who doubt the city teams say there’s not a lot of competition,” said Sandiford. “But we also want to win it for us, because there’s a lot of doubters.”

New Mission will play Concord-Carlisle in the Division 2 state final on Saturday. It’s another city-suburb matchup, but more importantly for this team, it’s the last step on the journey. The journey began right after Thanksgiving with more talent, and it may end with a title on the strength of character and intangibles.

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