And as the game went on, the Black Knights slowly found ways to get the ball into the paint to exploit that advantage.
But in crunch time, with the game hanging in the balance, the Bulldog defense slammed the door shut. Canton didn’t give Stoughton a single look inside, holding the Knights scoreless for the final 3:33 of the game to secure a 46-40 win on the road.
Senior Eric Mischler took a pass from Steve Burbank and drained a three early in the fourth to give the Bulldogs their biggest lead of the game, 41-33. But over the next three minutes, the Black Knights clawed back into it.
Jake Queeney crashed the offensive glass for an uncontested putback, KC Ugwuakazi (15 points, 12 rebounds) converted putback, and two possessions later, converted an old-fashioned three-point play to bring the hosts within one possession, down 43-40.
The Black Knights, however, never attempted another shot from in close the rest of the way, nor did they get a second chance on offense as Canton cleaned up the boards. Stoughton’s final seven possessions resulted in two turnovers and five three-point attempts.
“For us, it was about ball pressure, pressuring the guy making the pass,” said Canton head coach Ryan Gordy, now in his 10th season at the helm of the Bulldogs. “KC is a problem down low, he is a good player. “Sometimes we did a good job of it and they struggled to get the pass in and it allowed our help defense to rotate, and the times we were late they got good touches and scored. I thought it all about just pressuring them.”
Junior Lanse Dorcelus sliced through the Stoughton defense and scored at the rim with just under two minutes to play to pad Canton’s lead. More stops and a free throw from Dillon Nguyen sealed the deal.
“I think a lot of just comes back to practice,” said first-year Stoughton head coach Evan Taylor. “It’s obviously a strange year, this is only our fourth day that we’ve been together in the past two weeks and two of those days were games. I think as the season goes on, we’ll eliminate some of the mistakes you saw tonight, we’ll study the film more, and get back on track.”
“Canton was doing a good job [preventing it], they are a good defensive team, well-coached but we just didn’t execute,” Taylor said about getting enough paint touches. “We were trying to get some looks inside but I think the lack of execution comes from the lack of practice.”
Mischler (game-high 17 points) helped the Bulldogs get off to a strong start on the offensive end. The team’s leading scorer last season, the Black Knights bottled Mischler up on Tuesday night, holding the senior to just eight points. On Thursday, Mischler came out and hit an early three and had six points in the opening quarter.
After just two makes in the first quarter, Stoughton’s offense found a bit of a groove in the second. Connor Andrews came off the bench with five straight points and the Knights scored six straight attacking the rim. Elisha Claude, the defending Hockomock League champion in the indoor high jump who is playing hoops this season with track delayed, drained a triple and Stoughton had its largest lead at 21-17.
Canton was quick to answer as Nguyen found Mischler wide open cutting to the basket, Dorcelus tied the game on a fast break, and Mischler hit a turnaround midrange jumper at the buzzer to give the Bulldogs a 23-21 lead at the break.
“[Stoughton] did a really good job on Eric on Tuesday,” Gordy said. “To his credit, Eric watched a ton of film and studied some things he wasn’t doing right and he just came out with a different mindset tonight. He came out like a senior all-star, it’s his team. His mindset and approach was great after they had a really good game plan on Tuesday. And when other guys are hitting shots, it opens up everything.”
A putback from Matt Giglio and a layup from Mischler were answered by back-to-back buckets from Ugwuakazi down low in the paint. And a corner three just before the shot clock from Brady Conlin had the Black Knights ahead.
But the Bulldogs had three players step up and deliver shots over the final four minutes of the quarter that gave the visitors the lead for good. First, Burbank drained a triple for a 30-28 lead. After Waseem Sablon put Stoughton up with 1:32 to play, Ryan Connerney made three straight big plays. First, a strong take to his left past his defender was good for two.
After another Stoughton turnover, Connerney dished to Will Keefe (career-high 11 points) in the corner for a triple with under a minute to go. The Black Knights once again lost possession and this time Connerney knocked down the three himself just before the buzzer for a 38-31 lead after three.
“Six points felt like a lot of points tonight as far as a cushion,” Gordy said of those points at the end of the third. “So when you can knock down a couple of threes, it just opens up the spacing and lets us to hit some back cuts, opens up some driving lanes. In the second quarter when we weren’t hitting, they did a good job of collapsing their defense and kind of daring us to shoot. So when you knock them down, it opens everything up.”
The Black Knights limited Mischler to just five points in the second half, but Burbank, Keefe, and Connerney all connected from deep to supplement the offense.
“When the other guys start hitting shots, any team is going to be tough to stop,” Taylor said. “We knew they had some other shooters, when they start hitting shots it’s tough. If we’re able to hit some of our shots, maybe it’s a different game but [Canton] played well, they were well-prepared.”
Canton boys basketball (2-0) is scheduled to take on Sharon in a battle of unbeatens on Tuesday. Stoughton (0-2) will host North Attleboro on the same night.