ATTLEBORO, Mass. – Sam Stevens swung the ball around to the corner, making the extra pass to get an open look, and Andrew Rooney lined up a three-pointer. The shot hit the front of the rim, the back of the rim, bounced high up into the air, and then scraped the rim on its way through the net.
It was a moment that epitomized Mansfield’s 77-65 victory at Attleboro. The Hornets hit seven three-pointers in the second half (10 for the game) and seemed to knock down every open look and had a response every time that the Bombardiers threatened to get back into the game.
“Rooney’s shot cost me about five years off my life just hitting the rim 17 times,” joked Mansfield coach Mike Vaughan, whose team moved a game ahead of the Bombardiers in the Kelley-Rex standings. “We made the ones we had to. We really stepped up, Sammy did a good job, Matty hit a couple of tough ones, and then Rooney’s ultimately put the icing on the cake.”
Attleboro coach Mark Houle added, “We had some really good opportunities to play good defense but then they would hit a tough shot. Those are backbreakers, those are momentum busters, and they did it a few times tonight. I like our toughness, but at the end of the day they played better for 32 minutes.”
The Bombardiers, spurred on by a loud home crowd, got off to the perfect start, riding their two senior stars. Bryant Ciccio scored 10 of his 23 points in the opening quarter and Qualeem Charles (11 rebounds) scored eight of his team-high 24. Attleboro led 11-3 and 20-12, but Rooney (11 points) beat the buzzer at the end of the first to cut the lead to 20-15 after one.
After a dominant start to the game, Charles picked up his second foul of the half on a reach-in. Once the Attleboro center went to the bench, Mansfield was able to take advantage and eventually extended its run to 18-5 to grab the lead for good.
Matt Boen caught fire in the second and spearheaded the Mansfield attack. He started the second with a three. Following baskets by Brendan Foley and TJ Guy (13 points), Boen stole a pass at midcourt and raced in for a layup and then he grabbed a defensive rebound and beat the Bombardiers up the court for another layup.
“When we become a perimeter team,” Vaughan explained, “we struggle to grind out possessions, but when Matty is getting to the rim it opens up TJ a little bit and Chris Hill can get more comfortable inside and then it opens up Sammy a little bit more, it allows us be way more efficient.”
Nick McMahon kept Attleboro close in the second. He drilled a three to make it 26-25 and then he hit a wild, shot clock-beating jumper while being fouled to pull the Bombardier within 30-28 at the break. After his big first quarter, Ciccio was held to just two points in the second.
“They’re a very good defensive team,” Houle said. “Whether they’re face-guarding him or playing team defense, they knew where Bryant was at all times on the court.”
Vaughan noted, “After about the six-minute mark of the first quarter, I thought we played with great energy. I thought we did a lot of the things we practiced for the last two days to prepare for this team and having two special players like Q and Ciccio to go against. I thought after that point Ciccio really had to earn everything he got.”
Boen started the third with a triple, as Mansfield went on an 8-2 run and started to get some separation. Guy scored on a feed from Boen and then Stevens (16 points) hit a three on an assist from Cincere Gill (five assists).
Attleboro needed a spark and turned to Charles in the post. He scored nine points in the third quarter, twice finishing at the rim on assists from McMahon. Ciccio continued to find it difficult to get going against the Mansfield defense, but Justin Daniels stepped up off the bench with eight points, including a pair of threes, to keep Attleboro within three points.
Boen (10 points in the third) stretched the lead to six with a late three-pointer and then Mansfield started the fourth with eight straight points over the first 90 seconds of the quarter and pushed the lead to 14.
Stevens knocked down a jumper, Boen turned a steal into a layup and the foul, and then Guy snagged an offensive rebound and was able to score through contact. Charles answered with an and-one on the other end, but again Stevens had the response with a straightaway three.
Attleboro cut the lead to as little as nine points, 66-57, after a basket by Charles, who scored seven in the quarter. Ciccio also found some openings again, scoring nine points in the fourth. But, the Hornets just made too many shots for the Bombardiers to overcome. Gill drilled a three, then Rooney followed with his three that bounced around for ages and essentially sealed the win by putting the Hornets back up by 13.
“We want to be playing our best in February and March,” said Vaughan. “Tomorrow’s February and we’re playing pretty good. Are we playing where we need to be to make a run in March? Absolutely not. But we’re getting there.”
Mansfield (15-2, 11-1) will have another first-place showdown on Tuesday when the Hornets try to split the season series with Franklin. Attleboro (12-3, 10-2) will try to keep the pressure on the league leaders when it hosts Oliver Ames.
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