MANSFIELD, Mass. – With under a minute to play and the game almost out of reach, Attleboro senior Bryant Ciccio had his shot blocked but never gave up on the play and was the first to pounce on the loose ball, keeping possession by earning a jump ball.
The ensuing possession ended up in a three-point play by the Bombardiers, cutting Mansfield’s lead to just five points with 25.5 seconds to go. While the Hornets went on to sink all of their free throws to secure the win, it was that play by Ciccio and the no-quit attitude from the Bombardiers in which made it so tough for Mansfield to earn the 71-62 victory.
“They’re a good team,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan on what the challenge was of pulling away. “Ciccio had over 30 points and kind of kept them in the game on key possessions and key times where we had them on the ropes. He’d come down and hit a shot when they needed it. I thought we got sloppy when we got up.
“We’re still trying to find our identity and there were a few times I thought we had them on the ropes and we’d come down and throw the ball out of bounds or fouling when we had no business fouling. Instead of a seven or nine-point lead, it goes to five. We’re getting better with our turnovers but we have still have to take care of the ball and be more efficient.”
Mansfield made small runs to create separation a handful of times throughout the game, but never orchestrated a run to pull away completely. Instead, the Bombardiers would come up with an answer of their own, and more often than not a basket or defensive play made by Ciccio, who had a career-high 32 points, was the catalyst in it.
Holding a two-point lead to start the fourth quarter, junior Matt Boen (nine points, eight assists, seven rebounds, three steals) scored his first basket, assisted on a pull up jumper from Sam Stevens (26 points), and came up with a steal that led to two free throws of his own to give the hosts a 53-46 lead three minutes into the fourth.
But Nick McMahon drove to the basket for two and Ciccio (five rebounds, three assists, three steals) earned two free throws late in the shot clock, sinking both to bring it right back to a one-possession game, 53-50, with four minutes to go.
Boen found Drew Rooney (five points, five rebounds, four assists) for a huge three-pointer, the Hornets got a stop that Boen brought down and quickly pushed up court for an easy two from junior TJ Guy (24 points, four assists), and back-to-back Bombardier turnovers led to baskets from Guy and Boen (traditional three-point play) for a 63-50 lead with two minutes to go.
“Even though we have a senior group, we’re still molding into the team we want to be,” Houle said. “We’re still trying to figure out roles on the team. You never like to lose but playing in a game like tonight, knowing that we fought back and did some good things, is encouraging.”
An easy two from Qualeem Charles (nine points, four rebounds) preceded a big three from Ciccio, who then came up with a steal and finished in at the rim for a quick 7-0 surge in a one-minute span to make it 63-57. Ciccio and Stevens traded free throws, Boen added two more, and the Hornets finished 11-for-11 from the free throw line in the quarter to secure the win.
“We have a team full of kids that have played a lot of basketball and they have a lot of heart,” said Attleboro head coach Mark Houle. “It’s a gritty group and we’re not going to lie down. Back to the wall, it was nice to see some kids step up to make some plays for us, get some big rebounds, and claw our way back into it. Ultimately that first quarter, you can’t spot a team like Mansfield 10 points like that in a game on their home court. We’re striving to play 32 minutes…and I thought we played better in the second, third, and fourth quarters.”
The 10-point spot that Houle referenced was Mansfield’s strong start to the game. Stevens sank a pair of threes in the first minute, Guy scored twice, and Rooney finished off a layoff as the Hornets jumped ahead 12-3 three and a half minutes into the game.
Jason Weir (eight points) hit two first quarter threes and Tim Callahan hit another to help the Bombardiers stem the tide the rest of the frame, trailing 20-12 after one. Charles picked up his second foul in the first quarter and did not play for large portions of the second and third quarters.
“That’s a credit to Lorenzo [Wilson], Adam Pearstein stepped in and gave us some good minutes, and I thought Jason probably had his best game,” Houle said of the Bombardiers sustaining without Charles. “We knew it’d take around a month for him to get his basketball legs under him and he had his best game tonight. We just need to guys to continue to find their roles and step up when we need them.”
An early three from Callahan and a jumper from Ciccio made it a one-possession game but Stevens sank another triple to keep the hosts ahead. Mansfield pushed the lead to 12 after a steal from Boen, an assist from Guy, and bucket from Stevens but Attleboro responded with a 9-1 surge to close the gap by the break. Ciccio scored all nine points to get Attleboro within 31-26 halfway through the game.
“When you talk about kids that compete, he’s definitely one of those kids you want on your team,” Houle said of Ciccio. “He competes hard on both ends of the court, and this means a lot to him.”
Threes from McMahon and Ciccio brought the visitors within two but Stevens had an answer from deep again and he scored through contact for a 44-37 lead late in the third. Attleboro countered with a three from Ciccio and Charles’ first basket in the final seconds of the third to make it 44-42 heading into the fourth.
“We never got that run,” Vaughan said. “Without watching the film, I’m not sure if it was those turnovers or if it was just the way they defended, I thought they did a good job of taking some things away. We never really got that run which is rare. I guess we got it a little at the start of the game but they seemed to answer.”
Mansfield boys basketball (2-0 Hockomock, 3-1 overall) is back in action on Tuesday when it hosts Bridgewater-Raynham at 3:30. Attleboro (2-1 Hockomock, 3-2 overall) returns to action on Friday at Oliver Ames.