Newton North rattled off a quick 7-0 run in the fourth quarter, cutting Mansfield’s lead to just two points, 54-52 with just over three minutes to go.
But after a timeout, the Hornets delivered during the most important stretch of the game, putting together a 6-0 run over the next two minutes and never looked back in a 71-62 win over the visiting Tigers.
“I thought we did a really good job having key possessions when they got it close,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan. “That was a big stretch there. If that goes the other way, we could be playing from behind.”
Junior Tommy Dooling (13 points) drained a three with 4:43 to play to give the Hornets a nine-point lead, but it took just over a minute for the Tigers to get back within two.
Aaron Cooley hit two free throws, Noah Neville hit the second of two free throws, and Ethan Wright (32 points) hit a mid-range jumper to bring Newton North within four. After forcing a Mansfield turnover, Neville converted at the rim to make it 54-52, forcing Vaughan to call a timeout.
The Hornets executed right out of the timeout, as senior Sam Hyland drove around his defender for a layup. John McCoy (22 points, nine rebounds) hit one free throw on the offensive end, and the defense forced Wright into a turnover.
McCoy went back to the line after being fouled, but after missing both shots, junior Damani Scott (nine points, seven rebounds, five assists) pulled down the rebound and converted the putback while being fouled. His free throw completed the traditional three-point play but the Hornets up 60-52 with two minutes to play.
When Newton North answered with two free throws of their own, Scott drove the lane for a bucket to keep the eight-point cushion.
The Tigers got within three with just under a minute to play when Wright drained his first three of the game, but Justin Vine hauled in a defensive rebound after a missed free throw from Newton North, and went down and sank two of his own to make it 65-60.
McCoy hit six straight free throws to close the game out.
“We just found a way to come down and have a good possession and have a big basket,” Vaughan said of holding onto the lead. “A couple of different people contributed. I think the quiet story was Hyland’s defense tonight. Wright got his points but it took him a lot to do it. [Wright] is a tremendous player, but I thought Sammy did a really good job of how difficult he made it for him.”
The only time the Hornets trailed was after surrendering the game’s opening basket. After that, Mansfield rattled off an 11-0 run over the next two minutes. A traditional three-point play from McCoy preceded a strong take to the hoop from the senior, Dooling drove to the basket for two, Ryan Otto (nine points) converted a putback, and McCoy capped the run with two free throws.
An early steal and dunk from Khristian Conner (eight points) put the Hornets up 10 (22-12), a lead that they kept for the majority of the first half. A mini 4-0 run over the final 13 seconds of the half brought the Tigers within six, 35-29, at the break.
Both offenses struggled in the third quarter, combining for just 18 points. Newton North scored 11 of them, making it a two-point game (42-40) heading into the final frame. The teams were called for a combined 13 fouls in the eight minutes, limiting either side from getting into a rhythm.
After the Hornets had gone just 1-for-12 from three-point range through the first three quarters, they got two of their biggest shots of the game in the first two minutes of the final frame.
After Sam Hyland swiped away an offensive board from Wright, Otto drained his first triple of the game it made it 45-40. A minute later, Otto didn’t hesitate after getting a pass from McCoy and hit another three to put Mansfield up 48-42.
“Ryan Otto had two big threes in the third, Damani getting the putback was a big possession, so I thought a couple of guys stepped up,” Vaughan said. “I thought Johnny played pretty consistent throughout, you could kind of tell his basketball legs caught up with him a little bit.”
Mansfield boys basketball (3-0 Hockomock, 4-0 overall) has a week off before it welcomes BC High to town on Thursday, December 28th at 7:15. Newton North drops to 1-2 overall.