CANTON, Mass. – Holding an eight-point lead entering the final eight minutes of the game, the Canton boys basketball team did all the little things to extend that advantage and hold on for a win at the end.
The Bulldogs used a pair of steals and a pair of offensive rebounds to open the fourth with a 7-0 run, jumping out to its largest lead of the game at 45-30, and then held off a late push from visiting North Attleboro over the final three minutes to secure a 58-54 victory.
North Attleboro started with possession trailing 38-30 in the fourth but Ryan Lentol (nine points, seven rebounds) came up with a steal that led to a layup from Kyle Fitzgerald (11 points, nine rebounds, four assists).
The Rocketeers tried to go down low on the ensuing possession but Devin Foster (21 points, seven rebounds) came from the weak side to knock it free. Canton’s first shot was blocked by Jake Petersen but Fitzgerald grabbed the offensive board and found Foster for a triple. After an empty trip from the Big Red, Canton missed a triple, but Foster was there for the putback to put the Bulldogs ahead 45-30 with six minutes to play.
Canton had half of its eight offensive rebounds in the final quarter and out-rebounded the Rocketeers, 10-6, in the final frame.
“To get those extra possessions against a good team, it was the difference,” said Canton head coach Ryan Gordy. “We talked about it at halftime because we were behind on the glass. We talked about being able to get a little lower and crashing on the weak side for offensive rebounds. Felt like we made that adjustment and did a good job in the second half.”
The Bulldogs led by 11 with just over a minute to go but the Rocketeers continued to battle to the final white. Josh Montague (15 points) hit free throws and followed with a strong take to the Tim to make it 51-44 with a minute to go. Canton pushed the lead back to 10 behind free throws from Lentol and Foster, but Montague answered with two free throws and junior Ethan Friberg connected on a three to cut the deficit to six with 21 seconds left.
Canton also applied a press at various times in the second half, mostly intended to keep the pace slow while holding the lead.
“It becomes a time management thing,” Gordy said. “Once you get up 12 in a Davenport game in this rock fight type games, anytime you can have time management in the fourth quarter is valuable. The press helped take some time off the block and got the ball out of Montague’s hands, he’s such a good player, he kind of makes the whole thing work for him so we kind of wanted to get the ball out of his hands with that press.”
North forced a turnover but couldn’t convert and Foster tacked on two more free throws to make it 57-49. Josh Porter added five points over the final seconds to get North within four at the buzzer.
“I thought our defensive effort overall tonight was subpar,” said North Attleboro head coach Sean Mulkerrins. “There was always one rotation that we missed. Coach Gordy made a great adjustment, they were slipping hard in the third quarter. Foster got going, which you know he’s going to, and then in that fourth quarter when they had that run, we’re down so every minute and every possession matters. We just didn’t play well and Canton made us look pretty bad at times.”
Canton’s eight-point lead to start the fourth was the result of a strong third quarter. Leading by two at halftime, the Bulldogs opened the second half with an 11-1 run. After Foster was held to six points on two made field goals in the first half, Canton made it a priority to get their leading scorer looks early on.
Foster answered the challenge, driving to the basket on Canton’s second possession for two. After a miss from North, Foster again was able to get into an isolation situation and used the glass to sink another layup. Canton came up with two offensive rebounds on its next trip, the latter leading to a corner three from sophomore Eric Mischler and the Bulldogs suddenly led 30-21.
Foster came up with a steal, and despite losing possession for a split second, grabbed it back and went in for two. North got on the board via a free throw from Friberg but Canton countered with a nice feed from Lentol to a cutting Matt Giglio (13 points, four rebounds) and the sophomore finished to extend the advantage to 34-22 halfway through the quarter.
“The whole thing starts with Devin, everyone knows that, and then it becomes contagious,” Gordy said. “When good things are happening with Devin, other guys step up and play well as well. Devin only had six at halftime so we wanted to get him some good looks so we ran a few sets for him early and to his credit, he knocked down shots and made plays. He might have cold stretches but he’s too good of a player to play like it for a whole game.”
North responded with an 8-4 run over the final four minutes to stay within striking distance going into the final quarter.
To begin the game, Canton built an 8-2 lead over the first four minutes but the teams combined for 20 points over the final four minutes of the first. Foster and Giglio each had a pair of threes in the frame while five different Rocketeers hit a field goal, including a three from Nate Gonsalves (12 points). Canton led 16-11 after one.
The Rocketeers’ defense shined in the second quarter and helped the visitors get back in the game. North limited Canton to 2-for-14 shooting in the frame, held the Bulldogs without a three-pointer, and forced three turnovers. Meanwhile, North’s offense got into gear scoring all of its points over the final 5:43, including a 7-1 run to finish the quarter.
Gonsalves bookended the run with a triple and a layup while Petersen and Friberg hit free throws and sophomore George Ladd (eight points, six rebounds) converted with a nice move in the post. North trailed 23-21 at half.
“I thought in the first half, we had two possessions we didn’t run the right thing, we missed some free throws, they had some offensive rebounds, and we were only down two,” Mulkerrins said. “So we tried to address those fixable things but the biggest thing is we have to defend better. We’re not going to put up 75 points. The defense just wasn’t there, and that has to be better.”
CANTON, Mass. – Less than two years after suffering a life altering brain injury, Canton senior Xavier Machuga hit one of the biggest milestones on his road for recovery.
He made it back onto the basketball court.
A swing player during his sophomore season, Machuga was slated two be a starter for his final two years of high school before suffering a brain aneurysm in early May 2017. He spent over a week in a medically induced coma and could barely move when he regained consciousness after the stroke caused bleeding in his cerebellum. He had to learn to talk and walk all over again.
Over the past 18 months, Machuga has achieved plenty of milestones all while attending Bulldog practices and games during their historic season a year ago. During that run, Machuga and head coach Ryan Gordy, who formed a special bond in 2015 when Machuga moved from Connecticut for his freshman year, had a conversation about what could have been. During that conversation, the idea that Machuga would never play for the Bulldogs again came up.
“Why not?” Gordy asked. “Let’s create that opportunity for you as a senior.”
After months of strenuous rehab, and more recently, hours of layup practice, the moment came in the opening minute of the Bulldogs’ clash with defending D1 State Champions Mansfield. Machuga earned his first career start and scored the first points of the game for Canton, hitting a layup to standing ovation from both teams and fans.
“To be honest, it felt nothing less than awesome,” Machuga said. He was the first Bulldog to be named a captain for this season. “To be out there again with all my teammates, it’s a great feeling. It’s another milestone for me to take the floor with my fellow teammates and score a bucket, that was awesome.”
— Ryan Lanigan (@R_Lanigan) January 15, 2019
Machuga has made terrific strides in his recovery, and currently walks with the aid of a cane. And there is no denying his love for basketball. Before his injury, the story goes that Machuga made friends with the custodians at Canton High in order to get in extra shots up inside the gym.
“Xavier’s moment, it’s bigger than basketball,” Gordy said. “To see all the hard work he’s put in to get back to that moment, it’s pretty emotional for me, him and his family, and all the guys on the team. It’s been a long road to recovery and it’s just a really awesome, special moment for him and everybody in our community to see that happen.
“Tonight was pretty special, it was one of the coolest moment I’ve been involved in in my life.”
Gordy was hopeful the moment would happen this year but he left it up it Machuga to pick when. The senior forward hand picked Tuesday’s matchup with Kelley-Rex leading Mansfield, but not because of the showdown between division leaders, but because of his relationship with Hornet head coach Mike Vaughan. It was important for Machuga to have personal connections with both coaches and Vaughan coached Machuga in AAU basketball prior to the incident.
“It’s so much bigger than basketball,” Vaughan said. “Just to be able to recognize a kid who, given different circumstances, would have been here and been a key contributor to the Canton High team, but because of some unfortunate events had to take another path. I knew X before he got sick and now I’ve been able to see what he’s been able to do after he got sick. What’s amazing is he still wants to impact people. You just can’t say enough good things about when people live their life that way and want to do good things. There’s a lot of people who take adversity and fail and he’s doing nothing but being successful out of this. This was an opportunity for him to get highlighted, all the people chanting his name, my kids engaged and excited for him. It was very special, it was very touching. It was something I’ll remember for a long time.”
Canton dedicated last year to Machuga and used the slogan “Soldier X.” The Bulldogs went on to earn a share of the Davenport division title, the program’s first league crown since 1992.
“I was super determined to play again,” Machuga said. “The team winning the league championship last year drove me to make the comeback that I did. I mean I was working hard already but seeing what they did really pushed me inside.”
Machuga’s teammates fed off the moment, trailing by just one (15-14) and leading 26-25 over the once-beaten Hornets heading into the locker room. But Mansfield proved to be too much in the second half, using an early 9-0 run in the third to flip the game. The Hornets outscored Canton 24-9 in the third and finished with a 70-43 victory.
“I can’t thank Mike and the whole Mansfield program enough for their sportsmanship and participation,” Gordy said. “They had the ‘Soldier X’ warmup shirts which were awesome, those were a surprise to us. Xavier got emotional when he saw that, it was a really cool thing. The way the Mansfield kids reacted, it was really cool to see.”
Playing basketball has taken Fawaz Mass a long way. From the Boys & Girls Club as a youth to three seasons on varsity at Taunton High to one season at Bristol Community College (BCC) to three years at Bridgewater State University (BSU) and now all the way across the Atlantic to England.
Mass, who was an all-star guard for the Tigers (both in the Old Colony League and the Hockomock) and was twice named an All-MASCAC player at BSU, has taken an opportunity to study and to play at Bournemouth (U.K.) University. Located about 90 minutes to the west of London, Bournemouth plays in the British Universities and College Sport (BUCS) Western Division and currently tops its table with a 7-0 record (and a remarkable point differential of plus-337).
The chance to take his talents across the pond came after a scout saw him play at Bridgewater State, where he was the Bears leading scorer at 15.9 points per game his senior season. BSU coach Joe Farroba got an email saying there might be a scholarship to play in England and work towards a graduate degree.
“I was interested right away and didn’t know where specifically in England I’d be going at the time,” Mass said in an email this week. It turned out that the location would be Bournemouth University where Mass is taking part in a one-year, accelerated program to earn a master’s degree in business administration.
He already has family living in London and language wouldn’t be an issue, so Mass jumped at the chance to take his game to a new country. He started school in September and his season on the First Performance Squad began a month later.
“I’ve fit pretty smoothly into the team,” Mass said. “My coaches and teammates have been great, and it’s a good balance between British and other internationals.”
His long history with the game at a high level has made him a natural leader for the team. Mass explained, “I would say I’m an experienced veteran as well as a couple others on the squad who have some similar backgrounds and the coaching staff really looks for me to be that leader with my game and vocally to set the tone for the team.”
Mass was battling a nagging ankle injury during the early part of the season, but Bournemouth has been on a break to start the winter. Its last game was on Dec. 12, a 117-62 win over Cardiff University, and the next game on the fixture list won’t be until Jan. 30 against the University of Southampton (which Bournemouth beat 97-70 back in October). The break has given Mass the chance to recuperate and he is ready to come back strong when the season resumes.
“For me personally it was a great start,” he said. “The break helped a bit…now it’s all about continuing rehab and trying to get the 100% for the tougher part of the schedule.”
Basketball is a growing sport in England, lagging in popularity behind traditional games like soccer, rugby, and cricket, and the competition, especially in the Western division, isn’t at the same level that Mass faced at BSU and the game is officiated a little differently (“They allow you use your hands a bit more here.”), but he is expecting things to get a little tighter as the season hits the home stretch.
“The competition compared to Bridgewater isn’t as high [because] the specific region we are located in has a lot of British players,” he said, “but as we progress through the season the competition is supposed to get really tough and well play more teams with more internationals so I’m excited for that.”
In addition to league play, Bournemouth is also involved in a knockout cup competition, the BUCS Basketball Trophy. Bournemouth is into the last 16 and will face East London’s second team on Feb. 6 to try and reach the quarterfinal.
Having family just 90 minutes away and having the opportunity to play basketball competitively gives Mass a slice of home that has made it easier to get acclimated, but there are of course things he misses.
“I miss my family and friends and wish I could see my little brother play in his basketball games,” Mass admitted. “I also miss watching NBA games frequently, but I can’t with the time difference…and I almost forgot my mom’s cooking!”
After this year is up, Mass isn’t sure what the future will hold. He will have a master’s degree and some experience living and playing in Europe, which may open doors for him going forward. He is open to what may come his may and is just enjoying the unique experience that he has been offered.
“I’ve already gained a lot from being here and just being in a different environment and having to adjust,” he said. “Who knows what else this opportunity will give me…It’s been positive so far, hopefully it continues.”
The Panthers, after scoring 20 points in the first quarter, had been limited to just 30 over the next 23 minutes and were in need of a spark. After a timeout, Franklin got the ball into the hands of junior Chris Edgehill (13 points, five assists), and he took advantage of a Taunton miscommunication after a double screen to get enough separation for a three with 20 seconds left, helping secure a 50-45 win over Taunton.
“It was absolutely a grind,” said Franklin head coach CJ Neely. “Getting off to a great start helps a lot especially when you aren’t playing your best in the middle quarters. The second and third quarters we got really stagnant on offense. We stopped doing everything we did in the first quarter that was working. We weren’t running the floor as hard, we weren’t cutting or screening as hard, we weren’t reacting off screens really well. The motion got stymied, we weren’t moving the ball.”
Franklin was nearly flawless in the opening quarter, racing out to an 18-2 lead over the first six and a half minutes finishing with a 20-6 advantage after one. The Panthers shot 54% from the field and forced seven turnovers to build a big lead.
What looked like a potential blowout slowly turned into a dogfight as the Tigers scratched and clawed their way back in the game. Taunton’s defense stepped up to limit Franklin to just nine points in the second quarter while its offense found a grove, scoring 17.
Quinn (13 points) and John Martins (11 points, eight rebounds, five assists) each hit a three, preceded by a bucket by Vendrell. Two free throws from Dante Law (who missed the majority of the game with foul trouble and fouled out with 5:36 left on a questionable call) cut the deficit to four, 22-18, before Franklin answered with three straight points. Law, Edgehill, Vendrell, Jalen Samuels, and Naz Kenion all missed minutes on the second due to foul trouble.
Taunton’s bench was able to provide a spark with Tyler Stewart (six points, five rebounds), Josh Lopes, Fabio Goncalves, and Krishon Nairne (two rebounds, block) coming to to give the Tigers some valuable minutes. A late three-point play from Jack Rudolph extended Franklin’s lead to eight but Martins responded with a triple. Franklin led 29-23 at half.
“That first quarter was one of the best quarters we’ve had all season,” Neely said.”I think what happens is you get that lead early, you start feeling like you don’t have to work as hard. You start taking some bad shots and then they hit a couple and make a couple of hustle plays, and all of a sudden it’s a close game. Those guys play hard, they are a good team, they have a lot of pride. I give them a lot of credit, they battled back and took a lead on us after going down big. Taunton did a good job, I was impressed with their fight.”
Quinn sandwiched two buckets around one from Martin to knot the game early in the third, and a bucket in low from Stewart gave Taunton its first lead at 31-29.
“In the second and third quarters, we did a nice job defensively,” said Taunton head coach Charlie Dacey. “But with our offense, we have to maximize our opportunities and I felt like we had too many quick shots tonight. We have to be more patient and run our stuff.”
That’s when the Panthers turned to Samuels (12 points, eight rebounds), a senior captain, to weather the Tigers’ push. Samuels answered with a nice take to tie the game, and then used a two-handed flush to put Franklin back ahead. Samuels made a heads up play on defense, intercepting a pass and going the length of the court for a bucket while being fouled. His free throw completed the three-point play and put Franklin up 36-35.
“That’s a classic Jalen game, when we need him most he shows up,” Neely said. “Those takes to the rim late were huge for us. Defensively, he just finds a way, I know his back is killing him but he had some nice rebounds. I thought he made all the big plays for us down the stretch for us besides Chris’ three.”
Taunton closed the third with a mini 4-0 run – a free throw from Kenion, a layup from Stewart, and a technical free throw from Martins – to make it 36-35 heading into the final frame.
Will Harvey (12 points, seven rebounds) scored early and then capitalized on a Taunton turnover by adding a free throw to put Franklin up 39-37. Thomas Gasbarro and Kenion traded buckets before Samuels extended Franklin’s lead to four with 3:38 to play.
Taunton had three looks but couldn’t convert but Quinn pickpocketed Edgehill at half court and went in for two to make it 43-41. Harvey hit a free throw after being fouled on an offensive rebound and Gasbarro drove to the basket for two after a Taunton turnover to make it 46-41 with 1:30 to go.
“We just talked about what’s made us great over the years and that’s defense and that’s what we have to rely on now,” Neely said. “So down the stretch I went with more of a defensive lineup so we could get some stops. Putting Tom and [Jake] Macchi in there, they really grinded it out. Tom made some big plays for us, got some turnovers and gave us a huge lift defensively.
Quinn scored on a putback after a missed three Franklin got a stop and Vendrell drove to the basket for two with 39.8 left but Edgehill’s triple sealed the win.
Franklin boys basketball (4-2 Hockomock, 6-3 overall) is back in action on Tuesday when it travels to North Attleboro. Taunton (4-2, 7-3) will try to bounce back when it travels to Milford on the same day.