MANSFIELD, Mass. – Taunton’s comeback would probably have been enough to beat most teams in the league, and most teams in the area.
But the Tigers learned the hard way that you can’t leave the door open, even slightly, against Mansfield.
Taunton overcame a double-digit second-half deficit to take a fourth-quarter lead – its first advantage since the opening quarter – but it was the Hornets that made the plays down the stretch to earn a 61-56 victory.
Mansfield held a 15-point point lead (44-29) in the first minute of the second half after Sam Hyland drained a three, and led 50-42 going into the final quarter.
But Taunton’s full-court pressure started to pay dividends in the final quarter. Sophomore Prince Brown converted a layup and junior Lou Vendrell (16 points) finished a traditional three-point play to get the Tigers within three.
Mansfield’ John McCoy (16 points, five rebounds) snapped the run with a bucket, but Taunton sophomore Dante Law (12 points, nine rebounds, seven assists) took a feed from freshman Diamond Blakely and splashed a three to get the visitors within two, 52-50, with five minutes to go.
The three sparked a 9-0 run for the Tigers as Vendrell followed with a triple of his own to give Taunton the lead. Mansfield missed a pair of threes and a putback attempt on the offensive end. Blakely hit the front end of a one-and-one to create a two-point margin, and senior Lens Esquil (19 points, 10 rebounds) forced a travel with a good defensive play to get Taunton the ball back.
Vendrell cashed in on a feed from Blakely to put Taunton up 56-52 with just under three minutes to play. But that would be the end of the Tigers’ night offensively.
Despite getting back-to-back stops defensively, Taunton had a turnover on the offensive end and was whistled for a travel on the defensive rebound. Mansfield’s cashed in when Hyland drove baseline for an easy two, making it a one-possession game.
The Tigers once again had a turnover with Khristian Conner sniffing out a pass, but the junior couldn’t convert at the free throw line. Taunton went to the free throw line on the other end but missed the front end of the one-and-one situation.
Once again, Mansfield seized the opportunity with McCoy taking his man one-on-one and finishing nicely at the rim to tie the game with a minute to go. Taunton’s offense once again went without a shot as a loose ball was pounced on by Hyland, giving the Hornets possession with 42 seconds to play.
On the ensuing possession, Hyland ended up with the ball on the way to the basket but after sucking the defense in, he dished to senior Justin Vine in the corner, who buried the go-ahead triple with 21 seconds to go. Taunton’s attempt at a tying three came up short and Conner iced the game with a pair of free throws.
“Taunton had a game plan and a method of what they were trying to accomplish,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan. “I thought we did a good job of dealing with it, I thought they disrupted our rhythm a little bit. We were still able to build a lead and get the ball to drop some. I thought defensively we did a really good job through three quarters and that helped us build that lead. I think their style of play wore on us. I think fatigue, mental fatigue, it all started to kick in.
“I think that was probably as good of a game plan that Taunton has had that they stuck with. Charlie [Dacey] has those kids playing hard and they did a lot of really good things. I’m happy and feel fortunate we got out of here with a win. If that game went on another minute or two, I’m not sure if its the same result. A couple of bounces, a couple of calls that went our way in the final minute helped move us in the right direction.”
After giving up 25 points in the second quarter, the Tigers limited Mansfield to just 22 points in the entire second half. Until the final minute, Mansfield had just four points in the fourth quarter
“I think we got the tempo to go our way,” said Taunton head coach Charlie Dacey of the comeback. “We wanted to trap them but you have to be really careful trapping [Mansfield]. Even if you don’t make a mistake and you do trap them, they can send the ball all the way across the court, they are very smart. We were supposed to be trapping in certain places late and we didn’t execute. We had about three straight unwise decisions on the offensive end, and we’re back running our defense against their offense. I thought we did a halfway decent job against them. I don’t think we closed down the three-point shooting very well.
“That’s the way we have to play the game. We don’t score very easily, we just have to commit to full-court transition offense.”
It was only fitting for the Hornets that Hyland (13 points, seven rebounds) had the ball in his hand for Mansfield’s biggest possession, just moments after he came up with the loose ball on the other end to give the Hornets possession.
“We trust him so much,” Vaughan said of Hyland. “It wasn’t the play we drew up, the play was broken down. We want to share the basketball and get the best shot. We did a good job of reversing the basketball. He could have easily forced the shot up the middle, he could have gotten his own, Law was right there with him…but instead he dishes the ball out. Justin hadn’t really shot the ball, was in foul trouble in the first half so never really got into a rhythm, steps up and buries a big shot. That’s the part of winning an ugly game, guys step up.”
For Taunton, the comeback was doomed after the offense struggled after it took the lead. After going up 56-52 with just under three minutes to play, the Tigers had four turnovers, went 0-for-1 from the free throw line (missing the front end of a one-and-one) and missed its final shot after the Hornets took the lead.
“We just had to be better executing in the offensive end,” Dacey said. “We had it going our way, and then they started to press us and trap us, and that opened the court up for us and I thought we could get a layup but we struggled.”
A back-and-forth first quarter ended with the Hornets up by a pair, 14-12, with five different players scoring for the home team.
The separation came in the second quarter when Mansfield outscored Taunton 25-15. The Hornets closed the quarter on an 8-1 surge with buckets from Hyland, McCoy, a free throw from Damani Scott – who scored all eight of his points in the frame – and a late three from Ryan Otto. Otto’s three was Mansfield’s third shot (and third three-point attempt) of the possession after hauling in a pair of offensive rebounds.
Taunton cut into the deficit by outscoring the Hornets 15-11 in the third quarter. After going down 15, Taunton rattled off a mini 7-0 run behind Esquil and Law. McCoy had his own 6-0 in response but the Tigers finished the frame with a 6-0 run, with Esquil and Law accounting for all scoring.
“You come off the break, you go right into Taunton, Attleboro, Franklin, KP…there’s not a night off in the next week,” Vaughan said. “The games all mean something to every single kid, no matter where anyone is in the standings. Everyone is trying to knock each other off right now because this gives you a jump start to the second half of the year. We’re going to give everyone our best shot and we’re going to get everyone’s best shot in the next week, including tonight. The league prepares us for the postseason, a game like tonight will help later. It’s always good to play ugly and get a win.”
Mansfield boys basketball (4-0 Hockomock, 6-1 overall) is back in action on Tuesday when it travels to play Attleboro. Taunton (2-2, 5-3) will try to bounce back when it takes a trip to Franklin. Both games are scheduled to tipoff at 6:30.