SCITUATE – The scoreline favored Pembroke High. In more ways than one.
The still-unbeaten Titans edged Scituate, 42-41, on Saturday afternoon in a boys basketball showdown between Patriot League Fisher Division powers. Connor Lockhart scored the winning basket with 1:12 left, and Pembroke held its breath at the buzzer when Keegan Sullivan's desperation heave from just inside halfcourt – off a stolen inbounds pass – wouldn't drop for the Sailors.
In terms of the details, the game went right down to the wire.
Stylistically, though, the Titans had this one in the bag the whole way.
Under first-year coach Matt Vincenzi, Pembroke has reinvented itself as a defensive juggernaut, holding all but one of its first eight opponents under 50 points. Scituate likes to score in bunches, having hit the 80-point mark twice already.
So even if Sullivan had pulled off more last-second heroics – you might remember him from the football team's Super Bowl win over Duxbury at Gillette Stadium -- the Titans (8-0) at least would have been able to say that the game had been played on their terms.
"Our game plan all week, when we were talking about Scituate, was making them play at our pace," Vincenzi said. "Even at halftime, we were down 3 points (22-19), but we said, 'This is a Pembroke basketball game.' We were making them play at our pace. We didn't want to get into a track meet with them. We didn't want them to play helter-skelter. We wanted to settle down and execute."
Scituate, which came in averaging 68.7 points per game, managed a mere 5 in the first quarter. Johnny Kinsley led the Sailors (6-2) with 10 points, and the hosts were scoreless for the final 5:20 of the first quarter and the last 4:12 of the third quarter.
Pembroke's new 1-3-1 matchup zone strikes again.
"We take pride in our defense and we think that's our bread and butter this year," said Lockhart, a senior guard who finished with 13 points. "That's what's taken us to 8-0 right now."
"We just play our great D and we hold people to 30-40 points a game," agreed junior forward Brady Spencer, who had a game-high 17 points. "That's the way we like to play. We don't score as much (as some other teams), we like holding it to the 40-range, but we get our buckets."
Vincenzi, who coached the Cohasset High girls last season, brought the zone defense with him this winter, and the Titans have taken to it remarkably quickly.
"It's their height and their length" that makes the zone work, Scituate coach Matt Poirier said. "It makes a lot of sense to do that. It's something that's effective. They do a good job with it."
"They play a really tough zone defense," agreed Sullivan, who was limited to a pair of field goals and finished with 5 points. "That's something we really haven't seen before. They match up but they're still kind of in a 2-3. They were tall and long. We just weren't hitting our shots. We were doing everything else. We gave the effort. We just couldn't get shots to fall."
The Sailors were up by five (27-22) in the third quarter, fell behind by seven (40-33) in fourth and then roared back to grab their final lead, 41-40, with 1:44 left on Michael Gantt's drive to the basket.
Lockhart answered with a tough shot in the lane to put Pembroke back in front, 42-41, with 72 seconds left.
"Every time I went middle I got a driving lane and an open gap," he said, "so I took it and it went in."
Both teams missed 3-pointers, leading to the end-of-game sequence that started with Scituate inbounding under the basket with 7.3 seconds left on the game clock and 4 seconds left on the shot clock. Sullivan drove and dished to Sam Benning, but his scoop shot wouldn't fall. Poirier pleaded for a foul call, but the officials ruled the ball had gone out of bounds off a Scituate player.
Pembroke inbounded with 3.3 seconds left. Spencer tried for a home-run pass, but he left it short. Sullivan picked it off, raced back into the frontcourt and let fly. His shot wouldn't go, and Benning's putback came well after the buzzer sounded.
"I didn't think he was going to throw it deep, so then I kind of just turned into a receiver, like in football," said Sullivan, who ran in the winning 2-point conversion in the final seconds to give Scituate a Division 4 football state championship last month. "I got it. I saw there were 2.3 (seconds left). I made a move and tried to hit it. I was hoping it was going to go in. It felt pretty good (leaving my hand)."
"I was a little worried," Spencer said of his emotions as Sullivan came charging upcourt. "I underthrew that. Thank God he didn't hit it."
The Sailors didn't hit nearly enough.
"Our goal is to score 67 points per game," Poirier said. "And we did not (come close to that). I thought we had some good looks. I can't yell at them for not making shots."
That's a familiar refrain for those who walk off the court after playing Pembroke this season. Titans games often resemble rock fights, but it's super effective.
Vincenzi said Lockhart is the key, noting, "He gets in the passing lanes. He leads our team in deflections; he leads our team in steals. And he leads our team in plus-minus; when he's on the court, good things happen because he gets his hands on the ball."
Vincenzi also raved about Spencer, who had 22 points in Friday night's 48-43 win over North Quincy and came back strong for a rare Saturday afternoon tip-off.
"I've never been as proud of a player as I've been of Brady Spencer these last two days," Vincenzi said. "Two games in a span of 16 hours and he was the best player on the floor in both games."
Pembroke will try to lock things down yet again at Silver Lake on Tuesday. That same day Scituate travels to Duxbury, where the Sailors hope to rediscover the offense that put up big point totals against North Quincy (89), Silver Lake (84), Catholic Memorial (71) and Southeastern Regional (68).
"We'd like to be 8-0, but we can't get those (losses to Plymouth South and Pembroke) back," Sullivan said. "We have to look forward to the next practice and then on to Duxbury for our next game."
This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Pembroke High boys basketball wins style battle by muffling Scituate