ATTLEBORO, Mass. – With Brookline leading by a point and the shot clock turned off, Attleboro’s first effort to try and regain the lead was off-line. Tim Callahan corralled the rebound to keep the possession, and Attleboro’s chance of winning Tuesday night’s Div. 1 South opener alive.
Callahan got the ball in the hands of senior guard Bryant Ciccio. There was no one that the packed gym wanted to see have the ball more than the recently-named Hockomock League MVP.
The Bombardiers cleared out, leaving Ciccio one-on-one well beyond the three-point line. He dribbled the clock down to five seconds before dipping his shoulder and taking off down the lane. As he went up for a shot, he drew a foul with 3.2 remaining. The gym was loud and he was trying to earn the first playoff win of his career, but Ciccio showed no nerves, sinking both free throws to put Attleboro back in front.
“They were in a one-and-one situation and it’s either draw a foul or get to the hoop on that one, take an easier shot than a hard one,” said Ciccio. “But, I love being under pressure. I live for that and I want to take those shots at the end of the game.”
Brookline tried to get the ball up the floor for one last shot, but Nick McMahon got the slightest touch on the second pass on the sideline and the clock ran out on a 50-49 Attleboro win. It was the program’s first tournament victory since 2008.
“There’s 13 seconds left and the ball is in the hands of a player that we have a lot of faith in that’s going to make a play and he made a terrific play, got fouled,” said Attleboro coach Mark Houle. “To be put in that position and to knock down those free throws at home in a state tournament game, I’m very proud of him.”
It was always likely to be a close game and it played out that way right from the opening tip. Neither team managed to build more than a five-point edge in the first half and the lead changed hands nine times.
The Warriors were causing problems with their athletic wings, as Ben Murray (16 points) and Lucio Dahlstedt-Brown (15 points) combined for 11 points in the first. Murray’s drive put Brookline ahead for the first time at 11-9.
Attleboro answered back by going inside to senior center Qualeem Charles (16 points and nine rebounds). He scored a layup plus the foul off an offensive rebound and then came back with another and-one off a pass from Ciccio. Callahan (six points) nailed his second three of the quarter to put the Bombardiers ahead 18-14 after one.
Dahlstedt-Brown nailed a three to put the visitors up 25-23 in the second, but Attleboro came right back. Ciccio (14 points) knocked down a shot to tie it and then Jason Weir (six points) got free on a pick-and-pop for his lone three-pointer of the night. After a Brookline basket, Weir lobbed a pass over the top for another Charles layup and McMahon (eight points and six rebounds) turned a steal into a fast break basket and Attleboro’s largest lead, 32-27.
Brookline closed the gap to one, but Ciccio hit a tough floater in traffic to put Attleboro up 36-33 heading into the locker rooms. That would be where the Attleboro offense would stay for the bulk of the third quarter.
The Bombardiers went nearly six minutes of the third quarter without scoring a point, but remained in the game thanks to its defense holding Brookline to just six over that same span. Attleboro turned to its bench, trying to give the starters a much-needed rest and the likes of Evan Houle, Justin Daniels, Lorenzo Wilson, and Adam Pearlstein kept the hosts in it.
“This team’s a tight-knit group,” said Ciccio. “We fight for each other, play hard for each other, and everyone on this team will do what it takes to win the game. We knew if we kept playing hard on defense then the offense would come.”
Ciccio drilled a long three to tie the game at 39-39, Attleboro’s first points of the second half and he followed with a jumper that tied the game again. Charles came back in and scored off a McMahon assist and, improbably, Attleboro took back the lead at 43-41 entering the fourth quarter.
“We had some young kids come in there in the third quarter and they haven’t played a heck of a lot of minutes this year but they gave us three really good minutes and it was a stalemate,” said Houle. “We talk about being a team and those 30 seconds, two minutes, three minutes that we got from some of our reserves tonight were really key for us.”
Charles got a put-back and McMahon had a drive to the rim to extend the lead to six points and it looked like Attleboro might be starting to pull away. The Warriors responded. Alex Socorro scored his only three points of the game and got Brookline to within one with 3:16 left to play.
Attleboro got one at the line on its end and Brookline got one at the line on the other end. After a big offensive rebound by Devani Perez, Murray went to the basket and finished in traffic, giving the visitors the 49-48 lead with just 46.3 to go.
The Bombardiers had one last chance to get over the first round hump and it was no surprise it was the MVP that had the final say.
“There were times in the first half when they got in their rhythm and they were getting to the middle and they were running some really good stuff offensively,” said Houle. “In the second half, it was just getting back to our basics, trying to control the ball better, the on-ball defense was good…the tempo of the game was what we wanted.”
Attleboro (17-6) will now take on top seed Mansfield in the quarterfinal on Friday night. It is the third meeting between the teams this season, with the Hornets winning each of the first two. There is plenty of respect between the teams and players and few secrets.
“I love all the kids from Mansfield,” Ciccio said. “We all compete so well against each other and it’s always a good game. Everyone gets their money’s worth when we play.”
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