SHARON, Mass. — Over the past decade-plus, countless teams in the Hockomock League and beyond have fallen prey to Mansfield’s signature fourth quarter runs.
This year’s Sharon boys basketball team isn’t one of them.
The Eagles survived a one of those runs inside a furious fourth quarter comeback bid from the visiting Hornets to hold on for a 66-61 win to complete an impressive season sweep.
Sharon’s once comfortable 17-point lead to start the final frame turned into anything but as Mansfield came out with a renewed energy to the tune of a 12-0 run to make it 55-50. Sharon senior Dante James answered with a triple to stem the tide, but it was only momentarily as the Hornets kept clawing back.
Chris Hill drilled a three and Trevor Foley’s monster block led to a steal from Davon Sanders but the Eagles’ defense got back-to-back-to-back stops and on a night where he was the best player on the floor, Sharon junior Jacob McLoughlin (career-high 27 points) delivered one of the biggest shots of the game with a corner three for a 61-53 lead with 2:20 to go.
Caden Colby wrestled his way to a putback and two free throws from Sanders (17 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals) cut the lead back to four before Nate Katznelson hit one from the line himself to make it 62-57 with just over a minute left. Foley (15 points, 10 rebounds, 4 steals) had a strong take to the rim at the end of the shot clock to cut the deficit to three and Mansfield got the ball back down just three. The Hornets got off a three from the corner but it was off the mark.
McLoughlin went 4-for-4 from the line in the final 15 seconds to seal the win.
“We preach mental toughness all the time,” said Sharon head coach Andrew Ferguson. “We said in the locker room that in the second half they would come out with all they’ve got, especially after what happened last time. We knew we’d be getting their best effort. We had to just get guys in the right position and just having really good players that can execute the plan.”
Mansfield put up more points in the fourth quarter than it had in the second and third quarters combined but fell just short of completing the comeback.
“We had a lot more fight in that fourth quarter,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan of what was different in the last eight minutes. “We had our backs against the wall and we are a team that doesn’t lose a lot so the kids responded. I think if we were able to limit it more in the third, it kind of cost us and it ended up being too big of a hole to climb out of.”
Sharon had its big lead going into the fourth because of its offensive execution in the first and third periods. McLoughlin set the tone right out of the gate by hitting his first six shots from the floor, including a trio of three-pointers. He finished with 15 points in the first eight minutes and his only miss from the floor was a desperation three before the buzzer. James (18 points, 7 rebounds), Tyler Goodman, and Matt Baur added baskets and the Eagles landed the first punch in the form of a 24-point first quarter.
“In previous years, we’ve been down double digits before we wake up,” Ferguson said. “To be able to attack them early in our gym, get the crowd into it…our crowd has been fantastic all year. We were able to get them involved early with that big first quarter.
“I don’t think there are any better point guards in this league than Jacob McLoughlin. When he has the scoring opportunities, he will have nights like tonight. He’s had double-digit assist games, his defense is so good, and his on-ball stuff forces teams out of things they want to do. He’s been struggling shooting the ball the last couple of games so seeing that first one go in certainly built some confidence in him.”
Mansfield tightened up defensive in the second as the Eagles only had half of the production in the second quarter, but their physical defense prevented the visitors from finding a rhythm on the offensive end.
The Hornets tried to exploit Sharon’s aggressive, physical defense and ended up with 19 first half free throw attempts (12 in the second quarter) but they weren’t able to cut into the deficit and trailed 36-29 at halftime.
“McLoughlin shot the ball really well tonight and that was a big difference,” Vaughan said. “He’s an elite level player in our league and obviously those players make big plays in big games. It doesn’t get much better than this for a high school game, it was an old-fashioned fight. I can’t be more proud of my guys to respond and come back at the level they did. We had a shot in the corner that would have tied it. We have to take some lessons about how we played in the fourth and apply that going forward.
“We were trying to move more than we did the first game but it’s hard with two styles of play. We’re a finesse team that wants to run our action. It’s no secret teams try to be physical with us. When you don’t get a consistent whistle, you have to adjust and I thought we did that in the fourth. And I thought throughout the game we got some shots in the scheme we were running, they just didn’t fall. You have to play through the physical play and when you have a shot, you have to knock it down.”
Sharon’s defense held Mansfield to just three points in the first three minutes of the third, a free throw from Eddie McCoy and a putback from Hill (17 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks). Katznelson drilled a three and Ryan Brown sank one of his own on a quick catch and release from the corner. Two more from James gave Sharon its biggest lead to that point at 46-32.
“We mixed between our man and our 1-3-1 zone defense, and I think we’re still pretty physical when we play in the zone,” Ferguson said. “They hurt us rebounding when we were in that zone so we had to play a little more man-to-man. We want to play aggressive defense, aggressive man-to-man defense, and our help and our secondary help was excellent tonight. That allowed us to be more physical too.”
Defense was the catalyst for Mansfield’s rally in the fourth quarter. Colby dove onto a loose ball for a steal that led to two points from Foley, and then Foley had an incredible stretch with three consecutive steals, all leading to points on the other end. Hill converted his own miss to make it 55-50 with just under five minutes left.
“I was talking to one of their assistants before the game and I asked, ‘how do you guys prepare knowing you’re getting everyone’s best every single night?’ He said it’s better than the alternative,” Ferguson said of playing Mansfield. “Mike does such a good job, from freshman right through varsity, they are so efficient in how they run things. It’s a program we’re emulating and we’re trying to be like them because they’ve been the standard.”
While the Eagles became just the third team since the Hock split into two divisions to earn a two-game season sweep of the Hornets (Franklin in 2012, Taunton in 2022), the Hornets still have control of the Davenport division. If the Hornets win out, they’ll win their first Davenport title in their first season in the division.
“This is a good learning lesson for us,” Vaughan said. “We don’t set goals to beat individual teams, we don’t circle specific teams, we never have. We want to win the league and we still control our own destiny. When you put it in perspective, our goals are still intact. Winning the league is a big goal of ours, and no matter how we got here, it doesn’t matter to us, we want to win the league.”
Sharon boys basketball (11-3 Hockomock, 13-3) will look to stay in contention for the division crown with a trip to rival Oliver Ames on Tuesday. Mansfield (12-2, 17-2) is also on the road with a trip to Stoughton on tap.
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