Following in the footsteps of John Martins (30 points against Canton) and Ryan Sullivan (27 points against Mansfield), senior Lou Vendrell came off the bench to provide a big spark for the Tigers, leading Taunton to a 70-61 win on the road.
Vendrell scored a season-high 20 points, including 11 points in the fourth quarter, to help the Tigers secure an important win as they inch closer to a postseason berth.
“It was a huge win, being shorthanded,” said Taunton head coach Charlie Dacey. “These guys that have carried us for three games are all good kids, they’ve done a nice job.”
Without three starters, the Tigers posted a 1-1 record last week so Tuesday’s road trip to Stoughton was an important one. Martins had another solid effort for the Tigers, dropping 15 points and hauling in eight rebounds while sophomore Josh Lopes came off the bench and scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half.
Taunton built a 10-point lead by using a 13-4 run over the final 2:15 of the first half. In the second half, Stoughton continued to push back into the game but the Tigers never surrendered the lead.
The Black Knights kept the visitors scoreless for the first 4:13 of the third quarter but could only muster six points of their own. Martins scored off a turnover and assist from Vendrell to get Taunton on the board, up 37-31. A three from Lopes extended that advantage to 40-31 with three minutes left in the third.
But Stoughton continued to chip away. Four points from Obinna Ugwuakazi (21 points, 11 rebounds) and two from Tahkwan Gates Brown (six points, five assists) got the Black Knights within five but a three-point play from Lopes kept Taunton ahead, 43-47, going into the final quarter.
“Those two guys are learning to play together,” Gallivan said of Ugwuakazi and Gates Brown. “At the beginning of the season we were playing one at a time, but they’re learning. They are looking for each other too. It’s not always pretty, but it can be effective.”
Taunton’s lead ballooned to 12 when sophomore Tyler Stewart come up with a steal then found Vendrell on the break early in the fourth quarter. Vendrell returned the favor to Stewart for two and a 51-40 lead, and then Stewart found Quinn in the corner for a three and Vendrell converted on a breakaway to make it 56-42 with 4:38 to play.
The 14-point lead was far from safe, however, as Ugwuakazi converted down low, Kevin Dixon splashed in a triple, and sophomore Jake Queeney came off the bench to drain a three to make it 58-50 with 2:14 to play.
“Queeney did a nice job, came off the bench and hit some shots,” Gallivan. “He’s played a couple of varsity quarters, he had one quarter of eligibility left tonight so we put him in and he did well.”
A free throw from Ugwuakazi cut the deficit to seven, but Vendrell responded with a jumper in the paint to put the Tigers up 60-51.
“If he starts off playing well, he does well for the game,” Dacey said of Vendrell. :He was confident tonight. He had a lot of momentum and was participating on both ends of the floor too which I think factored in.”
Ugwuakazi and Quinn traded two points apiece and Queeney hit another triple to get Stoughton within six, 62-56, with 1:29 to go. Each team had an empty trip, and Lopes raced out for a layup and a 64-56 lead.
“14 points out of a sophomore in a pressure situation like that? He’s a worker,” Dacey said of Lopes. “He’s worked his butt off, he’s in a good spot right now, and he deserves it.”
With under a minute to go, the Black Knights were forced to foul and Taunton was able to hold on for the win.
In the first half, Stoughton junior Myles Grigalunas-Powell (13 points, five rebounds, four assists) helped the Black Knights jump ahead 12-8, but Taunton closed the opening quarter with a 6-0 run (two each from Krishon Nairne, Martins, and Vendrell) for a 14-12 lead.
In the second quarter, Martins took control of the offense and scored eight points in the quarter. A three-pointer from Ajahn Rue brought Stoughton within one at 22-21 with under three minutes to go but the Tigers finished the quarter strong with a 13-4 run.
Martins made back-to-back triples, Vendrell added in five straight, and Martins converted shortly before the buzzer for a 35-25 lead at the break.
“[John] makes good decisions out there,” Dacey said. “We’re trying to run some things, and he manages to settle it down and occasionally takes care of business himself. That’s the senior leadership we need.”
Taunton boys basketball (7-4 Hockomock, 10-5) begins a three-game home stand when it welcomes Oliver Ames on Friday night. Stoughton (4-7, 7-8) has its second straight home contest when it entertains North Attleboro.
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