Fast forward nearly two months and those Hornets are now clicking on all cylinders, the proof being a dominant 70-50 win over #4 Newton North.
With the win, Mansfield returns to the D1 South Sectional Final for the second straight year, the third time in the past four years, and fourth time in the past six seasons.
“I was concerned, I was really concerned where we would fit in the South, considering the South was loaded this year,” Vaughan said. “There are eight teams that if they were to win the South no one would be surprised, it’s a loaded field. We are playing good at the right time, other teams are playing good as well. We’re going to continue to do what we do and hopefully try to find a way to get one more against either Brockton or Needham.”
The Hornets haven’t lost since that game at Franklin High, rattling off 17 straight wins including victories over Hanover (defending D3 state champions and current D2 South semifinalists), Cardinal Spellman, Taunton, Brockton, and Newton South. Mansfield also avenged its lone two losses in that span, comfortably beating both Franklin and just last week, BC High.
The winning ways continued on Monday night at Taunton High as the Hornets beat Newton North for the second time this season.
Senior John McCoy took over in the second half, scoring 18 of his game-high 25 points after halftime, junior Damani Scott was nearly unstoppable on the offensive end with 23 points and 11 rebounds, and senior Sam Hyland spearheaded an impressive Hornet defensive effort the resulted in Ethan Wright – arguably the best player in the state – scoring just nine points, three of which came in the fourth with the game in hand.
“We had to throw everything we had at him,” Vaughan said of defending Wright. Wright scored 32 points in the first meeting back in December. He was held to just nine points on 4-for-10 shooting on Monday night.
“He’s one of the best players I’ve seen play at the MIAA level. He’s a tremendous kid, tremendous athlete, tremendous competitor. Our goal early was to try to take him out of his rhythm, and I thought we did a good job doing that. It’s just a matter of grinding through possessions, limiting his touches, and contest what he has opportunities. I thought Sammy was tremendous playing him and I thought I help defense was good making sure he didn’t get easy and clean looks. He’s a very special player and we just do everything we had at him.”
The Hornets got off to a strong start on both ends of the court. While limiting the high power Tigers’ offense from getting going, Mansfield began to establish itself on the offensive end. Tyler Boulter (11 points) hit an early three and had a strong take to the basket, Scott turned a pair of offensive rebounds — one his own, another from Ryan Otto — into four points, and McCoy added four of his own for a 15-6 lead after one.
Scott became the focal point of the offense in the second quarter. He opened the scoring for the Hornets with a traditional three-point play and got by his defender for two right after Newton North had answered.
“I didn’t feel good at the shootaround today so I didn’t expect this at all,” Scott said. “With Johnny and Tyler and all the guys I try to ease my way in and score when I can. And having Johnny, it makes it easier for me to get into a rhythm because he’s there if I miss. When I get into a rhythm it really gets me going.”
McCoy hit another three and Scott continued to find success at the rim with four straight points, helping Mansfield take a 31-18 lead at the break.
“He played as good as you could,” Vaughan said of Scott. “He’s engaged on defense, you can’t ask for a kid to play a better game at this point in his career. It was nice to see, he kind of helps us weather the first half when we weren’t as comfortable as it may have seemed. He had to go make some plays for us, and made some tough ones. He made the difference of us having a lead and as we talked about before, when we have a lead, we are more difficult [to beat] because all of our stuff works. When we’re playing from behind, it’s difficult for some of our stuff to work so it played to our advantage tonight.”
Scott scored on the first possession of the second half but picked up two quick fouls on the defensive end, forcing him to the bench. With their top scorer in the game on the bench, the offense switched gears and McCoy took over.
Tom Andreae (11 points) cut the deficit to single digits for Newton North but McCoy responded with a traditional three-point play on the other end. After a turnover, McCoy once again attacked the basket, resulting in another three-point play and a 41-26 advantage.
Boulter and Newton North’s Aaron Cooley traded baskets but McCoy couldn’t be stopped. He once again drew contact at the rim, finishing off yet another three-point play for a 46-28 lead.
Wright came up with a Mansfield turnover and tried to inject some life into the Hornets with a two-handed slam on the fast break, but the Hornets quickly got the ball up court for an easy two from McCoy, preventing Newton North from building any momentum.
“Part of our game plan offensively was to pick our spots when we thought we could get downhill,” Vaughan said. “They are a really good contest team, one of their focuses is to defend the three-point line which sacrifices helping. I thought we had some matchups with Damani, who play tremendous, and Johnny in the second half. Johnny answered my call at halftime. He needed to be better and he was, he was tremendous, that’s why he was league MVP because of the performance he put on in the second half.”
McCoy opened the fourth quarter in familiar fashion, taking advantage of a Tiger turnover and then driving to the basket for two points plus the harm – he hit the free throw for his fourth three-point play of the half.
“It was definitely nice to see the ball go through the hoop finally,” McCoy said after scoring eight points through the first two playoff games. “I kind of struggled the past two games, but my coaches and teammates told me to just stick with it and keep shooting, and it worked out tonight.
“Once we get to the hoop it opens things up for the shooting. When we get to the hoop our offense really gets in motion and everything starts to go down.”
After Scott hit a three, Newton North amped its defensive pressure up with a press, resulting in four quick points but after each team traded turnovers, McCoy sank a triple that wrapped the game up. Mansfield led 59-42 with five minutes to play.
Mansfield boys basketball (24-4) will take on either Needham (19-3) or Brockton (19-3) in the D1 South Final. If the Rockets beat Brockton, it will be a rematch of last year’s final (Needham won, 65-56). If the Boxers ground the Rockets, it will be a rematch of regular season matchup that Mansfield won 69-64. The game will be at Taunton High with the date and time still to be determined.