The Bombardiers were zipping passes all around the court, sharing the ball among all five players, hitting teammates in stride on cuts to the basket, and draining shots from three-point range. And Attleboro was good on the defensive end too, having a hand in eight Stoughton turnovers while holding the visitors to just three makes from the floor, none from three-point territory.
The result of that quarter, and a strong start to the second half, was an 18-point advantage for the hosts with just over a quarter and a half to play.
But with two minutes to play, that lead had dwindled to just six points behind a spirited defensive effort from Stoughton, a halftime switch from zone to man-to-man helping the Black Knights get back into the game.
A three from Stoughton senior Myles Grigalunas-Powell (17 points, 3 rebounds) forced the Bombardiers into a timeout with 2:01 to go, the hosts having scored just four points over the first six minutes of the fourth quarter.
In desperate need of a basket to halt Stoughton’s run, which was 12-4 across the entire quarter so far, the Bombardiers turned to their “Mr. Reliable” – senior Bryant Ciccio (23 points, four assists). Ciccio, who had scored Attleboro’s lone two buckets of the frame and was playing in his 65th varsity game, took it himself, getting a step on the defender to attack the basket before pulling up and sinking an elbow jumper with 1:22 to give Attleboro a 59-51 advantage.
Stoughton, which never developed a rhythm from downtown, missed on its next three shots including two from deep, and the Bombardiers held on for a 59-53 win.
“We worked really hard adjusting in the second quarter, and I think our defense in the second quarter was terrific too,” said longtime Attleboro head coach Mark Houle. “We shot the ball well, and we were getting more paint touches too and that’s how we built the 18-point lead. We wanted to extend the lead in the second half but [Stoughton] came out and got right back into it. They switched to man, and they played terrific. They forced us into a lot of things that we weren’t comfortable doing.
“We weren’t comfortable against the zone in the first quarter, then after we got comfortable against it in the second, they went man and I don’t think we ever felt comfortable against it. They did a nice job, they have some terrific athletics and they defended really hard. But we didn’t lose our composure as a team and Bryant hit that big elbow jumper.”
Ciccio scored Attleboro’s first field goal of the fourth with 6:15 to go, and finished off a nice layup along the baseline for the Bombardiers’ only other points with 4:19 to play in the game.
“He’s been in a lot of games for us, and he made the right play and we trust him to do that,” Houle said of Ciccio. “He pulled up at the elbow, and that’s a shot he practices a lot and we have confidence he’s going to make those plays. If he wasn’t open, he’s the type of player who’s going to find someone who is. Stoughton’s defensive intensity in the second half was really good, we didn’t get any second-chance points, we didn’t get to the foul line. We didn’t execute well against the zone in the first quarter or against man in the second half.”
The Black Knights built a 9-2 lead early on but Attleboro slowly found success against the Stoughton zone and started to get hot from three-point range as both Ciccio and Tim Callahan (11 points, six assists) each connected from deep in the last two minutes to get the Bombardiers within one, 13-12, at the first break.
The momentum carried into the second as the Bombardiers exploded for 22 points in the frame. Callahan sank a three off a feed from Nick McMahon (eight assists), who followed up with a triple of his own off a feed from Ciccio.
Stoughton senior Tahkwan Gates Brown (nine points, seven rebounds) kept the Black Knights close with a bucket from down low but Ciccio sank another triple followed by a pair of free throws. Callahan found classmate Qualeem Charles (12 points on 6-for-7 shooting, 11 rebounds) on a cut to the basket for an easy two, and Ciccio sank yet another triple for a 32-19 advantage with just over a minute to go in the frame. Stoughton finished the first half 0-for-9 from three-point range.
“We lost this game in the second quarter,” said Stoughton coach John Gallivan. The Black Knights outscored the hosts 34-25 in the second half but couldn’t overcome the 22-6 second quarter. “We had three good quarters but we always talk about having four. There are so many ways that Attleboro can hurt you, and we were probably a little too focused on them hurting us inside which led to all the threes. Second half, they got some twos but twos are less than three. And it was a bad combination in the second quarter of them hitting those shots and us not hitting.”
Stoughton senior Ahmad Jahed (11 points, seven rebounds) sank a three and classmate Obinna Ugwuakazi (14 points, 10 rebounds) found Gates Brown for an easy two out in transition to help spark the Black Knights’ comeback.
Ciccio swished his fourth triple of the night to push the lead back to 18 at 46-28 but Stoughton closed the third with 11 points in the final 3:15 to stay in the game. Ugwuakazi scored six straight and Grigalunas-Powell buried a deep three just before the buzzer to make it 53-39.
“In the second half, the guys just started playing,” Gallivan said. “In the past, we’ve had some teams that have may have folded. That’s a great environment, its hostile, and it’s a lot of fun but it’s hard to play in. And these kids responded and kept it a game the entire way.
“There was nothing positive to say after last Friday and tonight, this was a building block game. There are no moral victories in this league but if you get something out of it, you can use it in your next game.”