The Score with Ken Powers: Doherty’s Massenburg one to count on; St. John’s boys hoops ready, as always

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Sports are, at their core, a numbers game.

You keep score to see who wins and loses. You keep track of who has the most points, the most rebounds, the most yards, the most carries, the highest shooting percentage and the fewest number of turnovers.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Doherty High senior Tariq Massenburg, a two-sport standout for the Highlanders, wants to major in accounting in college. But, it’s not for the reason you think.

Tariq Massenburg eyes football in college, but the Doherty star more than holds his own on the high school hardwood.

Ken Powers / For Worcester Sun

Tariq Massenburg eyes football in college, but the Doherty star more than holds his own on the high school hardwood.

“I like math because there is always just one right answer,” Massenburg said after dropping a game-high 27 points on Dorchester in Doherty’s 53-46 victory in the regular season finale. “In English and social studies you can argue about what the right answer is. In math there is only one answer. The answer you come up with, it’s either right or it’s wrong.”

Thing have been pretty right – as in all right – this year for Massenburg.

In the fall he helped lead the gridiron Highlanders to an 8-3 record and the postseason as a two-way starter. As a starting wide receiver, Massenburg caught 27 passes for 511 yards (18.9 yards per catch), and scored three touchdowns. From his strong safety position, Massenburg was in on 66 tackles.

Also a starter in basketball, Massenburg is averaging a team-high 15.4 points a game and scored a game-high 26 in eighth-seeded Doherty’s 65-62 win over No. 9 St. Peter-Marian in the first round of the Central Mass. Division 1 boys’ basketball tournament Monday, Feb. 29. The 11-10 Highlanders advanced and will face top-seeded St. John’s (19-1) at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 3, in Shrewsbury.

Massenburg, as he showed against Dorchester, is like that old car sitting in your driveway. It may take a while to warm up, but when it does it is quickly firing on all cylinders.

After playing a pretty pedestrian first quarter against the Bears, Massenburg warmed up considerably. He scored 25 points in quarters two, three and four. He also ratcheted up the defensive intensity, finishing with seven steals, many of which led to easy baskets for him and his teammates.

“Tariq is one of those kids that needs to get up and down the court a couple of times and get banged around a little. That’s what gets him into the game,” said Doherty High coach Jermaine Chavis, who has known Massenburg since his middle school days at Forest Grove. “Some guys come into the gym ready to go, Tariq may take a minute or two, but once he catches fire his confidence gets boosted up.”

Massenburg said his slow start against Dorchester was due, in part, to the Highlanders being unfamiliar with their opponent.

“We didn’t know anything about this team so we we’re kind of feeling them out in the first quarter,” Massenburg said. “They’re a big team, bigger than we usually play, so we struggled early. After a while, though, we started playing our game and we were all right after that.

“Early on, defensively, we were jumping out at them at the 3-point line, but they weren’t really taking any 3s,” he continued. “So, we packed the defense in a little more and tried to take away the driving lanes. They’re an athletic team and got a lot of their points early by slashing to the basket.”

Doherty, which trailed 15-7 after the first quarter and 23-20 at halftime, held Dorchester to four points in the third quarter and took a 35-27 lead.

While it may seem that Massenburg is just another sports-oriented high school student, he’s not.

“Tariq is a true student-athlete,” Chavis said. “He’s always been a books first and sports second kid. He is a very strong kid both mentally and physically and a very hard worker. In addition to his academics and his sports he holds down a full-time job at Big Y and recently bought a car, using his own money.

“He’s our team leader and he works his butt off on the defensive and offensive end of the floor. The kid goes hard all the time,” Chavis continued. “He helped Doherty win a state championship in football in 2013 and he probably would be a track star if he decided he wanted to do that in the spring. And he’s a wonderful basketball player.

“It’s been a blessing to have him here at Doherty High.”

Tariq Massenburg is a force at both ends of the court for the Highlanders.

Ken Powers / For Worcester Sun

Tariq Massenburg is a force at both ends of the court for the Highlanders.

After a breakout season as a junior, Massenburg – the team’s top defensive player – met with Chavis, who told him he needed more on the offensive end as a senior.

“He looked me in the eye and said, ‘coach, I got you. I’ll do it.’” Chavis recalled. “His defense is always there, he always gives 100 percent on the defensive end. This past summer he would go down to the Greendale Y and spend hours and hours working on his offense. During the football season, on the weekends he would go down to the Y and work on his shot and take hundreds of free throws.”

Massenburg said his is looking into attending either Bentley University or Assumption College next year and plans to continue his football career at one of those two schools.

“I see myself as a football player,” he said.

Massenburg, who wears No. 3 in both football and basketball – “I’ve always worn No. 3. It’s my lucky number.” — said he doesn’t know what position he’ll play in college.

“I like hitting, but I like making plays on offense, too,” Massenburg said. “I have no idea where I’ll line up. I’ll play wherever they tell me to play. I just want to be out there in the game.

Among his favorite pro players are Kevin Durant, of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, and Calvin “Megatron” Johnson of the NFL’s Detroit Lions.

If the Massenburg name sounds familiar, that’s because it probably is. Tariq is a distant cousin to Tony Massenburg, who starred collegiately at the University of Maryland and holds the NBA record – shared with Chucky Brown, Joe Smith and Jim Jackson – for playing with the most NBA teams, 12 [Editor’s note: Including seven games with the 1991-92 Celtics — Larry Bird’s last season.]

Pioneers prepared for postseason

St. John’s, which lost to Westford Academy in last season’s Central Mass. Div. 1 final, is ready for another long tournament run, coming in as the section’s top seed with a 19-1 record. The only blemish for the Pioneers was an early season home loss to Marlborough High, which features 6-foot-6 sophomore Chris Doherty, one of the state’s top scholastic hoopsters.

While many players and coaches see this time of year as a special season, St. John’s coach Bob Foley does not.

“I like every day of basketball season, from the first day of practice to the last game,” Foley said. “Each game to me is a tournament game, that’s how I look at it, that’s what I try to convey to my kids. And that’s why, hopefully, we never come out flat; that we always come out ready to play.

“We work too hard for that,” Foley said about not being ready to play when the tournament begins. “Some teams just look forward to the tournament and forget the regular season. They go into the tournament and they lose their first or second game and they’re devastated. I enjoy every game during the year and my kids enjoy every game during the year, too.

“We take the tournament one game at a time and we’ll be ready for each game. If somewhere along the line you lose, you put it behind you and start thinking about the following year.”

There’s a very good chance the Pioneers won’t be looking toward next year anytime soon.

All 19 St. John’s wins have been by at least 10 points, with the margin of victory in several of those games being more than 20 points.

To accomplish this, Foley has used, essentially, a seven-man rotation.

St. John's boys varsity rotation players, from left, Joe Murphy, Sean Burke, Alex Bradley, Adham Floyd, Tyler Mola, Cole Stairs and Nick Lukasevicz.

Ken Powers / For Worcester Sun

St. John’s boys varsity rotation players, from left, Joe Murphy, Sean Burke, Alex Bradley, Adham Floyd, Tyler Mola, Cole Stairs and Nick Lukasevicz.

The starters are sophomore Tyler Mola, juniors Alex Bradley and Cole Stairs and seniors Adham Floyd and Nick Lukasevicz. The top two reserves are senior Joe Murphy and sophomore Sean Burke.

Floyd leads the Pioneers in scoring, averaging 12.7 points per game. Also averaging double figures in scoring are Bradley (11.1), Lukasevicz (11) and Mola (10.7). Murphy and Burke each average 7.4 ppg, and Stairs chips in with 5.4 ppg.

“We have a good blend in our top seven with two sophomores, two juniors and three seniors,” Foley said. “Tyler is my point guard. He’s really stepped up into that role. Last year we had Davon Jones and Nick Lukasevicz playing that position, but this kid, a sophomore, just stepped right up and is playing the position nicely. Alex came off the bench for us last year, and now he is our starting shooting guard. He’s doing just super. Adham starts at shooting forward and he’s done a very good job.

“Nick is our power forward. He’s done everything that I ask and he’s a real leader out there for us,” Foley continued. “Cole is our center. He’s a big, strong powerful kid who rebounds and plays great defense. Off the bench I bring in Joseph Murphy, a senior, who barely played last year. He just brings us so much energy and plays so hard off the bench. Sean Burke comes off the bench, too, and he does a great job and is just as good as our starters.”

Foley said he feels the Pioneers are just as potent when Murphy and Burke enter the game as when the five starters are on the floor. The Hall of Fame coach said a key ingredient of the team’s success has been the play of a group of reserves he refers to as the Red Team.

“The Red Team plays so hard in practice to get the other kids ready,” Foley said “We take great pride in the work of the Red Team.”

The Red Team consists of senior Joe Lewis, junior Matt Sacco, sophomores Hunter Gorgas, Jackson Emus and Steven Bucciaglia, and freshmen Will Goff and Bobby Duquette.

“Joe Murphy was on the Red Team earlier in the year. He was the captain of the Red Team,” Foley explained. “I didn’t have a lot of guards at the beginning of the season so instead of him being with the first group he was captain of the Red Team. We took the captainship away from him because he is now with the top seven. So, Joe Lewis, a senior, has become the captain of the Red Team.

The St. John's boys basketball Red Team, from left, Jackson Emus, Matt Sacco, Joe Lewis, Bobby Duquette, Hunter Gorgas, Steven Bucciaglia, assistant coach Mike Curran and Will Goff.

Ken Powers / For Worcester Sun

The St. John’s boys basketball Red Team, from left, Jackson Emus, Matt Sacco, Joe Lewis, Bobby Duquette, Hunter Gorgas, Steven Bucciaglia, assistant coach Mike Curran and Will Goff.

“We have a lot of young kids on the Red Team,” Foley said. “Joe Lewis, the only senior on the Red Team, is the leader. The younger kids, most of them play JVs, but they practice with me every day. Those are the kids that are going to have to step up and take the place of the three seniors next year.”

Because of the work of the Red Team, Foley said he isn’t worried that the Pioneers will have gone 15 days between games before facing Doherty tomorrow night. “I get calls all the time for scrimmages and I say, ‘No, we’ve fought our 20 wars. We just want to get ready for the playoffs.’ ”

Foley said, looking back, it wasn’t one game that made him realize St. john’s could have as successful a season as they have had to date.

“We point to every game as being important,” Foley said. “We opened with Clinton at Clinton, and Clinton has a pretty good team. We went out there and we won. That was a nice win for us. Our second game was against Leominster out there. Leominster is a very good team, too. We beat both of those teams so it gave us some idea we were going to be all right this year.”

Foley said he believes the Division 1 bracket is wide open and a number of teams could be holding the championship plaque high later this month.

“There are a lot of good teams. Franklin is obviously very good, Holy Name had themselves a great year, and Wachusett is very formidable now that they got rid of a couple of their injuries and they’re at full strength,” Foley said. “There are other teams, too. Shrewsbury is very strong, and Westford, the team that beat us last year in the final, has a very good team. Doherty is the No. 9 seed. So you’re talking about a pretty strong team, there, too.”

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