But they’re a pretty good defensive team as well — and the top-seeded Hornets proved that on Monday night.
In a game with points coming at a premium, Mansfield’s defense shined and its offense made just enough plays down the stretch to pick up a 43-39 win over #4 Bridgewater-Raynham in the D1 South Semifinals.
The Trojans came into the contest averaging 67.5 points per game. It marked just the second time that B-R was held under 50 points — the only other time was when Mansfield beat the Trojans (52-45) back in January.
“Talk about a fantastic game on both ends, by both teams on the defensive end,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan. “I don’t know if we can say our offense or their offense was bad, I think the defense on both ends was that good. We had to have a great game plan [defensively] and I think our guys executed it. B-R had a great game plan and they executed it too. I think it came down to a few late baskets, a couple of free throws down the stretch, a couple of big rebounds we were able to secure that put is in a position to win the game.
“What tremendous effort by B-R and what they took away from us. I’m proud as hell of our guys that they were able to execute our game plan, even in a grind. Sometimes it gets hard, you lose focus or you lose track. Every defensive possession mattered and I don’t think we gave up one that were I said OK we did what we had to do our best to minimize their opportunities.”
Though there weren’t many big runs, one of the most important stretches of the game came at the midway point of the final quarter. Bridgewater-Raynham used a 5-0 spurt to tie the game 35-35 on a three point play from EJ Dambreville (18 points, 13 rebounds) and a basket from John Tesson (eight points, eight rebounds) with 3:33 to play.
On the ensuing possession, with the shot clock in single digits, Mansfield had its response on the other end. Max Boen (eight points) drained a three to put the Hornets back up, 38-35, with just over three minutes to play. It was just Mansfield’s second three-pointer of the game. After making their first attempt of the game, the Hornets missed 15 straight until Boen’s shot.
“The three by Boen was huge, that was just a huge basket for us,” Vaughan said. ”Especially considering he missed some in the first half, a couple uncontested ones. He was bummed out a little in the locker room and I just said to him ‘Just go get one, shoot like yourself.’ And he did it. That’s what seniors do, that’s what good basketball players do. They find opportunities and he made it.”
The Hornets came up with a big stop on the other end as Dambreville was called for an offensive foul. On the offensive end, Mansfield used up the majority of the shot clock before Christian Weber found Sam Goldberg (11 points, 11 rebounds) down low. Goldberg was fouled and added a three throw to put Mansfield up 39-35 with just over two minutes to play.
On the defensive end, Sam Hyland came up with a big block for the Hornets. The Trojans got possession back but Bobby Long was whistled for an illegal screen to give Mansfield the ball back. Mansfield took all 30 seconds of the shot clock, unable to get a shot off before the buzzer.
But once again, Mansfield was disciplined on defense and stepped in to take a charge from Hesson.
“[B-R] is good and they’re talented and they can put five guys on the floor at any time that can score,” Vaughan said. “We preached for a couple of days at practice this week that we had to be disciplined, we had to keep the ball in front of us. This wasn’t the same B-R team we played a month and a half ago. I thought the guys answered the test. Guys had to take on some matchups – we had some mismatches in the post, we had help, guys got beat off the dribble, help defenders slid in to take the charge. Overall, what a great defensive effort from both teams and I’m proud of our guys that we were able to maintain that for 32 minutes.
Mansfield missed on the other end at the end of the shot clock but B-R couldn’t convert either. Goldberg hauled in the rebound – his fifth of the second half – and was fouled. He made both to put the Hornets up 41-35 with 20 seconds to play. B-R scored on the other end but Phil Vigeant (nine points, three rebounds), iced the game with two free throws with 11.7 seconds to play.
“I thought defensively they did a tremendous job of keeping us away from the hoop,” Vaughan said. “In the second half, I thought we did a better job of loosing them up and getting some back cuts scoring behind them. A couple times we didn’t score but we got fouls, which gave us opportunities late in the game to get to the line being in the bonus. Overall I was just happy with the focus, by both teams but more that we were able to maintain it for 32 minutes.”
Mansfield’s started the game with a terrific first possession, filled with plenty of ball movement and then a three from Vigeant. But that would be their last made three point until the final minutes of the game. The Hornets were just 1/9 from three point in the opening quarter.
However, Mansfield got an offensive boost from an unlikely source. Evan Christo, who had been one of the top defenders for the Hornets, came alive with four points and four rebounds in the opening quarter. Christo put Mansfield up 5-0 with a put back and then 9-4 with another late in the period.
He scored the opening basket of the second quarter and added a huge block in a one-on-one situation in the fourth quarter while Mansfield held on to a four point lead.
“He’s by far one of the most underrated players we’ve had here in terms of his contributions because he doesn’t score a lot of points night in and night out,” Vaughan said of Christo. “But talk about a big block, taking the guy one on one and then secured the rebound so it wasn’t a loose ball, it was our ball. Just the stuff he’s bringing to the table night and night out. He doesn’t need much praise to do it either. He’s just a tremendous young man who’s playing at a high level right now and defensively, he’s kind of our anchor right now.”
After taking a 16-15 lead into halftime, the Hornets fell behind twice in the third quarter, and even were tied with a minute to play in the third. However, John McCoy found Goldberg cutting to the basket and the senior drained two free throws to give the Hornets a four point lead (30-26) going into the fourth.
“We just had to stick to what we did well all year,” Goldberg said. “Shots weren’t falling but we had to just keep shooting and attacking the basket, get down hill. B-R did a great job of getting up on us so we utilized back door cuts and slips in the second half.
“They have a similar build that we do in that they’re athletic, medium sized guys. I thought our best strength defensively was being able to switch on everything. Being able to match their intensity and athleticism was huge for us.”
Goldberg scored nine of his 11 points and five of his 11 rebounds in the second half.
“I thought in the first half he was passive,” Vaughan said of the Hockomock League MVP. “When we came out of the locker room [at halftime] I told him this isn’t how you want to end your career. In the second half, I thought he did a better job of asserting himself on both ends, both offensively and defensively. Just a few points here and there, a couple of free throws, or a couple aggressive drives to the basket can swing a game like this either way. We just happened to be on the winning end.”
Mansfield boys basketball (23-2) advances to the D1 South Final to take on #3 Needham (19-4). It marks the fourth time since 2011 that the Hornets have reached the sectional final while this is Needham’s first ever appearance. The teams will square off on Friday at Taunton High. The time has yet to be announced by the MIAA.