MANSFIELD, Mass. – When Oliver Ames head coach Laney Clement-Holbrook walked out of the locker room after delivering her postgame message to the team, she did not even wait until the question had been asked before answering, “Never…never…never.”
After more than 40 years at the helm of the Tigers, a career that has encompassed more than 650 wins, Clement-Holbrook admitted that she had never had a team go without a made field goal for an entire half. That was, at least, until Friday night at the Albertini Gym against division leading Mansfield.
Despite coming into the game having scored 60 points in three of its last four games, OA came out ice cold against the Hornets, was held scoreless in the first quarter, shot 0-19 from the field in the first half, and managed only 17 points for the game (34 below its season average). Clement-Holbrook said, “Everything was tentative. We didn’t go to our strengths.”
Although the Tigers had historic struggles on the offensive end, Mansfield was hardly firing on all cylinders. The Hornets reached double-digits in a quarter just once, scored only four points in the fourth quarter and shot 4-16 from the free throw line (all in the first half). However, it was enough for Mansfield to pull out a 32-17 victory and take control of its own destiny in the race for the league title.
“It’s hard to describe,” said Mansfield coach Mike Redding with a shake of his head. “We had our moments where we executed and scored but never on a continuous basis. As inconsistent as we were, they just had a nightmare time shooting the ball.”
He added, “This was one of the weirdest ‘big games’ I’ve ever been a part of. It felt like two teams battling for last place instead of battling for first. But, if you told me at the beginning of the season that we’d be in first place after the first eight [games] I would’ve taken it and run.”
Mansfield started the game by going inside to 6-foot-3 junior center Meg Hill (18 points, 17 rebounds). Jen Peel (five points, five assists) flipped a pass to Hill for a layup and sophomore Maggie Danehy got Hill a good look with a pass to the left block. Hill added a couple of free throws, but the Hornets had a long stretch without scoring until Ann Maher knocked down a three off a Steph Kemp assist.
That bucket gave Mansfield a 9-0 lead heading to the second. Mady Bendanillo set up Hill for a fast break basket to start the quarter and OA finally got on the board with a pair of free throws by Abby Reardon (team-high six points, all from the line) with 5:39 left in the half.
The Tigers would get only one more point before the break, while the Hornets shot 2-14 from the line in the second and needed a scoring burst at the end of the second, including three points from Erin Daniel and a drive from Peel to get separation.
“I think they got apprehensive when their shots weren’t falling and because of that we did not defend,” said Clement-Holbrook. “I mean, Hill got everything and anything that she wanted and that was certainly not part of the game plan.”
Redding noted, “Both teams are really athletic, we both know what we want to do, so I think defense wins the day. We’re fortunate we had just enough offense to win it.”
The Hornets talked about the free throws at halftime and how OA was one good run from getting back into the game. Mansfield started the third quarter strongly and again it was Hill that the offense ran through. Hill scored six of the first eight points of the third and Peel buried a three to extend the lead to 19.
“At times we did a good job getting it in and at times we were a little low,” said Redding of running the Mansfield offense through Hill. “The other thing is when all the attention’s on her, it does open other people for drives and shots.”
Niyera Mitchell knocked down a jumper for the Tigers’ first made field goal and she assisted on a basket for Kayla Raymond (five points, 10 rebounds). Hannah Carroll knocked down a three for her only points of the night that cut the lead to as little as 13 at 30-17 in the fourth quarter.
“I think if we had played the first half like we played the second half, I think we probably would have been a lot closer,” admitted Clement-Holbrook.
Redding called timeout knowing that his team needed a basket and Peel was able to flick a no-look pass over the defense to Hill for another layup. It was the final point for either team.
Mansfield has now beaten title rivals Attleboro and OA in the past two weeks and has a one-game lead over both. Defense has been the calling card for the Hornets, who have held four of the top six scorers in the league (Ashley Sampson, Sarah Deyo, Julia Strachan, and Raymond) well below their season averages and are allowing a league-best 37.0 points per game.
“We’re doing what it takes to win tough games and we’ll take it at this point,” said Redding.
Clement-Holbrook is hoping for a response from the Tigers in their next game. She said, “They’ve got to be able to rise above this now and come back on Tuesday and be ready to roll.
She added, “It wasn’t the team that I was hoping would show up today and I hope they learn their lesson from this…We have to hold each other accountable.”