MANSFIELD, Mass. – The first time Attleboro and Mansfield met, the game went to overtime before a winner could be decided. On Friday night in the Albertini Gym, it looked like the two teams could be headed for another extra period when the Bombardiers battled back to tie the game at 53-53 in the fourth quarter.
As they had all game long, the Hornets made shots when they needed to, closing the game on a 10-4 run and sealing a 63-57 win that split the season series against the Bombardiers and forged a tie atop the Kelley-Rex division.
T.J. Guy got the Hornets off to a good start to the game, scoring the team’s first seven points, including a three-pointer, to take an early lead. Sam Stevens hit his first of three from beyond the arc to extend the lead to 10-4. Attleboro climbed back into the game by getting the ball into the post to junior Qualeem Charles (21 points and 17 rebounds). He scored eight in the first to keep the Bombardiers close.
Tim Callahan drilled a three to get Attleboro back within three but then Damani Scott (11 points and 11 rebounds) answered with one of his one and finished with Mansfield’s last eight points of the quarter to give the hosts a 22-17 edge.
Tommy Dooling (10 points) got free on back-to-back possessions in the second and drilled a pair of threes to extend the lead to 30-19, which was the largest of the night. Even without injured point guard Bryant Ciccio, the Bombardiers kept finding ways to hang around. Charles got a three-point play off a Mason Houle assist and then Houle (nine points) got a steal and assist for a Kevin Velazquez transition basket.
“All season long, we’ve had guys down and had guys step up,” said Attleboro coach Mark Houle about battling through the game without Ciccio. “This group really plays for each other. We’re still first place in the league…and we need to finish strong, take care of what we need to do, and work hard then we’ll be alright.”
“We tried to really run at Mason and really neutralize Q,” said Vaughan. “I mean, Q is going to get his points but if we neutralize him and really make it difficult for Tim and Mason to get going I thought that was probably our best recipe for winning. You’ve got to pick your poison.”
The Bombardiers cut the lead down to four at the start of the third quarter, but every time Mansfield would have a response. This time it was Boen drilling a corner three from a Dooling assist and then Stevens got going with seven points in the quarter. When Boen (12 points) hit his second three of the quarter, and third of the night, the Hornets led 53-42 and felt on the verge of putting the game out of reach.
Instead, Attleboro rallied with 11 straight points. Callahan hit a three and McMahon beat the buzzer with a pull-up jumper in the final seconds of the third. Callahan hit another to start the fourth and Charles scored off a Houle assist and got fouled on an offensive rebound to tie the game.
“We had to rebound,” said Vaughan. “I think in the third quarter when they made a push, the first time I thought we could’ve put them away, it was all done on the offensive glass.”
Houle noted, “We’re a resilient group. There were a couple possessions we’d like to have back, kind of settled a little bit, but Mansfield’s good. They buckled down on two, three possessions that ended up being key when we had momentum going.”
After a Scott free throw, Stevens got a good look at a straightaway three and nailed it to make it 57-53. Dooling beat his man for a layup and then Scott followed up a miss with a rebound basket to put the home team up seven with time running out.
“They made shots,” said Houle. “We adjusted some things at halftime and it was the first time we played zone all year. I think it took them out of their rhythm for a little while and we were gritty, scrappy, and I’m proud of our effort. We played like champions need to.”
With the Hornets struggling at the line, just 3-for-10 in the fourth quarter, Attleboro was still in the game and Houle buried his first three of the game to make it 61-57 with 43 seconds left. It just wasn’t enough for the Bombardiers as time ran out on the latest comeback attempt.
“If you’re not making free throws,” Vaughan explained, “you give opportunities and they had a few opportunities but they missed a few shots there that could’ve changed the outcome of the game. Some of it is they’re just not used to the moment, so having games like this will definitely prepare us come tournament time.”
The win moves Mansfield into a first place tie, but both teams have to run the gauntlet of division play over the final four games in the league.
“It doesn’t getting easy for either one of us,” said Vaughan about the closing stretch in league play. “It’s what I love about the league is that it isn’t easy and they didn’t make it easy for us tonight. Now we’ve got to enjoy this tonight and come out on Tuesday and be ready for Franklin because they’re going to come out and say hey this is our league title game.”
As Vaughan noted, Mansfield (14-2, 10-2) will travel to Franklin, which is just one game out of first, on Tuesday night. Attleboro (13-3, 10-2) will also be on the road, traveling to Oliver Ames, looking to stay in the hunt for its first ever Hock title.
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