NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – Coming off a big loss to division rival Stoughton, North Attleboro boys basketball head coach Sean Mulkerrins was encouraged with how his young squad bounced back on the road at Oliver Ames.
But the Rocketeers, filled with a roster still getting its feet wet at the varsity level, let a double-digit lead and a win slip through their fingers on this past Friday night against the Tigers.
Fast forward to Monday night and the Rocketeers were deadlocked with visiting Framingham, tied at halftime and again after three quarters of action inside Kenneth Pickering Gymnasium.
The growth of the young Rocketeers, even just one game later, was on display as North Attleboro dominated the final eight minutes of the contest to earn a 51-38 win over the Flyers.
“We talked a lot after the last game about playing for 32 minutes,” Mulkerrins said. “I’m proud of the guys for coming out in those final eight minutes and lock it in mentally. We’re a young group, and that’s not an excuse, but experience does count for something.
“I thought our guys made a concerted effort on the defensive end and I thought we rebounded pretty well all night. In that fourth quarter, we got the ball inside to George [Ladd] a lot, and defensively I think we did just enough.”
Junior George Ladd poured in a career-high 26 points to go along with 14 rebounds and four assists while sophomore Casey Poirier chipped in with a career-high 15 points to pace the Rocketeers. Ladd (10) and Poirier (seven) combined to score all of North Attleboro’s fourth quarter points, a frame it won 17-4.
Poirier opened the fourth by taking a pass from senior Ethan Friberg and draining his third triple of the game, having hit two in the opening quarter. A steal from junior Edan Kelley led to another three attempt from Poirier, and even though it was off the mark, Ladd battled for one of his six offensive boards for an easy putback.
Poirier used a nice take to the basket for two and Ladd followed with a two of his own off a nice post move, turning to his left to finish. Framingham sophomore Dante Kikuba snapped the Rocketeers 9-0 run with a nice finish in traffic but Ladd came right back down and scored off a feed from Kelley for a 45-36 lead.
North’s defense got another stop, forcing a turnover and turned it into points on the other end. Poirier got around his man then used a nice behind-the-back dribble and hesitation move before sinking a floater. Kelley came up with another steal on the other end, senior Josh Porter hauled in an offensive rebound and then found Ladd in the post for another bucket and a 49-36 lead with two minutes to play.
“We made an effort to get [Ladd] the ball more [in the fourth],” Mulkerrins said. “Framingham does a good job of crowding the paint and I thought early on, guys were forcing it a little and they were almost surprised there were four guys there to defend. We ran a set that we had run against them last year, we did it a little in the first half and I knew I wanted to go back to it. I was expecting a counter in the third quarter so I waited until the fourth. And we ran a lot of our offense through him.”
The Rocketeers had a lead after eight minutes of play thanks in part to three-point shooting. Despite finishing 4-for-16 from downtown in the game, North Attleboro his three of those in the opening quarter. Poirier sank his first off a feed from Ladd with 4:37 left and then his second off another pass from Ladd with 1:06 to go.
“Casey is a sophomore but he has varsity speed,” Mulkerrins said. “What’s exciting tonight is that we played against a team that is extremely disciplined at being inside the paint and I thought he made a lot of good decisions in the second half. He made plays in tight windows and knocked down some shots.”
Friberg gave the hosts a little bit of a cushion, 13-9, at the end fo the first when he sank a triple with Ladd assisting once again.
Framingham came to life in the second quarter with senior Jack Murphy draining a corner three early, and senior James Allen hitting two from deep after coming off the bench for the Flyers. Senior Sam Whiting completed a traditional three-point play and scored four straight points to push Framingham’s lead to 25-17.
Kelley had a nice up-and-under finish to keep North close. Ladd then sparked an 8-0 run to close the quarter with a layup plus the harm, Poirier sank to free throws, and Friberg converted late to make it 25-25 at the break.
In the second half, the Rocketeers’ extended their defense to a three quarter press. While it only resulted in a pair of turnovers, North was able to slow Framingham down and limited the visitors to nine points in the third and four in the fourth.
“I thought our press did a pretty good job of just taking them out of their rhythm, giving them less time,” Mulkerrins said. “[Dante Kikuba] is a sophomore, I really like his game but I thought we were able to slow him down with that press. But it was really about triggering us defensively, trying to get us more involved.”
North Attleboro boys basketball (1-2 Hockomock, 2-2 overall) is back in action on Monday when it travels to Lincoln-Sudbury for a 6:30 tip.