So it’s no surprise that at halftime, trailing 32-21 to Sharon, that DeStefano challenged his team to make a big commitment to the defensive end of the floor for the final 16 minutes.
His team delivered.
The Warriors held the Eagles to just four points in the third quarter, creating a double-digit lead that it used to come away with a 73-53 decision over Sharon.
“It was all about the defensive effort,” DeStefano said of the big third quarter. “The guys really committed to the defensive end, they boxed out well and didn’t give up a lot of rebounds. I challenged them at halftime to be better on the defensive end and they responded.”
King Philip’s defense was strong from the get-go of the second half, forcing a turnover on Sharon’s first possession, resulting in a putback from Sam Sesay (10 points, seven rebounds).
While Sharon took the lead back on a bucket from Andrew Burton (six points, six rebounds), King Philip outscored the Eagles 16-2 over the final 6:24 of the period.
After a turnover, Tim Nault (seven points, seven assists) converted a layup to re-take the lead, Sesay converted another putback on KP’s third shot of the possession, and Sesay scored again on a feed from Chris Roy (13 points) after another Eagle turnover.
Holding a 39-34 lead, the Warriors forced back-to-back turnovers, the first resulting in a bucket from Tyler Nault, the second two points from Sesay off a feed from Tim Nault.
Bruce Saintilus (six points) set up Andrew McKinney (five points, five rebounds) for a bucket and then took advantage of another Sharon turnover for two points while being fouled. Although he missed the free throws, the Warriors grabbed two offensive boards, the second resulting in two more from Saintilus and a 49-36 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
After hitting six triples in the first half, the Warriors adjusted and attacked the basket more in the third quarter. KP went 9-for-17 from two-point range in the frame and didn’t hit a three.
“I told the guys at half that we can’t rely on the three all game and we’d have to take it to the hole more,” DeStefano said. “We’re not going to be able to sustain the shooting, we needed to attack. We still took too many threes in the second half, and they weren’t all bad but we needed to attack more.”
A big reason for the success from in close was Sesay, who scored eight of his 10 points and grabbed six of his seven rebounds in the third quarter alone.
“He’s a physical specimen. He gives us toughness down there. He knows his role on the team, he doesn’t try and do anything out of his comfort zone. He’s there to bang down low, get boards, a lot of little things and he’s accepted that role, and he played well tonight. And he’s been huge in practice with challenging guys, he’s really become a leader for this team.”
Sharon made it interesting by opening the fourth quarter with a 7-1 run to make it a seven point game, down 50-43 with 6:38 to play in the game. Aidan Kane (career-high 22 points) scored on a feed from Ben Kaplan (10 points), Burton hit a pair of free throws, and Kane sank a triple on a pass from Alex Filipkowski to get close.
The Eagles had two chances to get closer after forcing a KP turnover and getting a stop on defense, but a missed triple and then a steal and layup from Warrior junior Alex f (career-high 18 points) swung the momentum back with the hosts.
A triple from Fritz extended the advantage to 12 for the Warriors but Sharon kept it close, and a putback from Kiran Chandrasekaran (nine points) made it a single-digit deficit but KP answered right away when Tyler Nault buried a three.
“We stopped attacking the basket,” said Sharon head coach Andrew Ferguson of what changed in the third quarter. “We’ve been preaching going downhill on offense and we kept going side to side. It was a little reminiscent of the first quarter against Mansfield, we looked a little intimidated and they ramped up their defensive pressure. Unfortunately a couple of shots didn’t fall, a couple of loose balls they beat us to, and we have to get better at those things but I think we will.”
King Philip had a strong shooting night overall, hitting 42% of its shots from the field. But the Warriors were particularly successful from three-point range early on.
The Warriors hit four of their first five attempts from deep in the opening quarter with Roy leading the way. The teams traded early threes, with Sharon holding an 8-7 advantage after a bucket from Aaron Strong. Roy put KP ahead with a layup, extended KP’s lead with a jumper and hit his second three of the frame with a minute to go to help KP lead 17-14 after one.
The Eagles battled back in the second quarter, limiting KP to just two triples in the frame. The Warriors led 25-16 with 5:28 to go, but Sharon closed the with a 16-6 surge to take the lead at the break. Kane had back-to-back triples to get within two and Kaplan drained a triple later in the quarter to take the lead. Sharon led 32-21 at the half.
“We had come in with a plan to switch up defenses with them and they really shot us out of our zone early,” Ferguson said. “We went to the man, and did a really good job with it at the end of the first quarter and the entire second quarter. But third quarter, we seemed to get a little tired and had some foul trouble. We lost Aaron Strong to injury, and it just wore on us a bit. They killed us on the offensive glass, getting second and third opportunities. And on top of that, they shot really, really well tonight and we couldn’t keep up.”
King Philip boys basketball (1-2 Hockomock, 1-2 overall) is back in action on Thursday when it takes on New Mission at Auburn High. Sharon (0-3, 0-3) will try to bounce back when it takes on Hingham at Westwood High on Friday evening.