But the overtime period? That was completely up for grabs.
In the end, the pendulum swung in favor of the Rocketeers just once more than it did for the visiting Bulldogs as North Attleboro claimed a 52-50 win over Canton inside Kenneth Pickering Gymnasium.
The decision was split after 32 minutes of action, North Attleboro claiming a double-digit first half advantage only for Canton to completely flip the script in the second half, stifling the Rocketeers’ offense and turning stops into points, and a deficit into a lead.
“We felt good about getting to overtime because we were on our last life for what felt like forever,” said North Attleboro head coach Sean Mulkerrins. “To get to overtime, we stole the momentum and their bench quieted down a bit. It was big to get points on the first possession. For us, it was just continuing what got us back into it against their zone and we had to keep playing good defense. It was a great Hockomock basketball game, felt like a playoff game almost. We made just enough plays.”
North Attleboro’s lead at halftime, 26-10, took a major hit when Canton came out swinging in the form of a 10-2 run in just over two minutes of action, putting the hosts on their heels. By the end of the third eight-minute segment, North Attleboro’s lead shrunk down to just five, 31-26, the Rocketeers getting a much-needed three from senior Tommy Onorato in the final minute.
It turned out to be a sign of things to come for Onorato, who finished with a career-high 12 points, and the Rocketeers. Canton’s comeback continued into the fourth though as a pair of free throws from Steven Burbank (12 points, six rebounds) preceded a three from Will Keefe (12 points) that gave Canton its first lead since the opening moments of the game.
Eric Mischler (11 points, eight rebounds) sliced his way to the rim for two, the Bulldogs earned back-to-back stops and Keefe tossed another triple in and Canton, on the back of a 12-1 run, suddenly had a 40-34 lead with 1:34 to play.
“It’s kind of been like that in the Davenport this year, seems like one team brings it for a half and another brings it the other half,” said Canton head coach Ryan Gordy. “It was kind of the opposite when we played them at home, we had a good first three quarters and they came back in the fourth. We talked at halftime about how we could get back into this game. Instead of quitting, the kids made a commitment and the effort to really start rebounding and playing defense, which got us back into the game.”
North Attleboro had an answer to stem the tide. With the defense collapsing on him in the paint, senior George Ladd (16 points, 15 rebounds) dished it out to Brody Rosenberg (seven points), who hit his first field goal of the game with a triple to halve the deficit.
Ryan Connerney (13 points, five assists) pushed the lead back to five when he sank a pair of free throws but North Attleboro had another answer from downtown. This time, Casey Poirier (four points, eight assists, four rebounds, two steals) dished it to Onorato for a three with 41.1 left to make it 42-40.
Canton added to its lead with a free throw but once again the Rocketeers, who had just five makes from three-point range through the first three quarters, hit their third three of crunch time. Poirier was short on his attempt from the corner but followed his shot, got the rebound, and dished it to senior Edan Kelley for a three – his first make of the game – from the top of the key to tie the game with 12 seconds to go.
“Tommy Onorato, I’m really proud of him, the second half of the season he’s really stepped into a nice role for us and understood what it took to be on the court,” Mulkerrins said. “Edan, a senior co-captain, missed some time this year and still isn’t completely back but hit a big shot. He’s got that big moment in him.”
The Bulldogs’ attempt at a game-winner was off the mark, only getting a chance to chuck a shot off an inbounds play with 0.6 seconds to go.
In overtime, the momentum swings continued back and forth as North opened the scoring when Ladd converted an offensive rebound but Canton went back ahead on their third look of the possession on a Mischler three, with Dillon Nguyen’s offensive rebound the catalyst of the play.
But just seconds after Mischler gave the visitors a slight lead, Rosenberg hit his second three of the night to put the hosts ahead. The teams traded stops as the game ticked under a minute to go, North Attleboro getting its biggest stop forcing a turnover. With the shot clock shrinking, Onorato stepped up and drained another three, this one with 14 seconds to go in overtime, to give North a 51-46 lead.
Canton fought to the very end, getting two free throws from Burbank to make it a one-possession game. A trap on the inbounds led to a jump ball and Canton getting possession back. Another foul led to two free throws from Connerney, making it a one-point game, 51-50, with 7.8 seconds to go.
The Bulldogs trapped once again and got another jump ball called, but the ball stayed with the Rocketeers. Rosenberg added a free throw to make it 52-50, and North Attleboro held on as Canton’s half-court heave was just off the mark.
North Attleboro had full control of the opening half, hitting 7-of-10 field goals from two-point range to go along with four three-pointers. And on the defensive end, the Rocketeers were doing just enough to keep the streaky Bulldogs from getting going.
Tied early, North closed the final three minutes of the first with an 8-0 burst. Onorato hit his first three of the game, Poirier added a triple, and Ladd attacked the rim for two and a 14-6 lead after one.
Big Red’s run continued into the second with Jared Vacher tossing in a three, Ladd getting back-to-back baskets and Nate Bennett scoring from in close for a 17-0 run in total. Jimmy Caraballo added a three as well as North staked a 26-10 halftime lead.
“Basketball is a game of runs and there’s some psychology behind it,” Mulkerrins said. “I thought the scoreboard was deceptive at half. I thought we played good but not as good as the other night and I felt Canton missed a lot of shots that they can make. I told them at half, if they make a couple in the second half they are going to relax, and then their defense will get better, and sure enough they hit some shots right away. Then the basket on our end starts looking smaller.
“Coach Gordy did a great job adjusting, made some changes. You never know exactly what you’re going to get with him, you’ll get the kitchen sink of tricks and if you aren’t mentally ready, which we learned on Monday night, you’re going to be on the wrong side of games against them. So hats off to them, they had a great season with a lot of great seniors, we have nothing but respect for that program.”
After North found success against Canton’s 1-3-1 defense in the first half, the Bulldogs elected to shake things up defensively, going with a 2-3 zone — a defense they hadn’t utilized all season.
Despite their inexperience in the set, the defense was very effective as North’s offense came to a screeching halt, managing just five points in the third. Meanwhile, those stops turned into buckets for the Bulldogs. Connerney scored on Canton’s first possession, Keefe got going with a triple, and Mischler added one from downtown as well. Burbank got a layup to fall and Canton’s 10-2 run to open the second half turned the game around.
“We haven’t practiced the 2-3 zone this season,” Gordy said. “Ladd’s a nightmare for us to match up with, Rosenberg, Poirier, and Kelley are all really good players. I didn’t think we could guard them man-to-man for an extended period of time. We had a lot of success with the 1-3-1 on Monday, they figured out some things tonight. They were getting to us on the glass so we went to the 2-3 to try and clean some things up on the rebounding which I thought helped big time in the game.
“It all flows, once you’re getting stops you can push in transition. Will Keefe got hot a little bit in the second half and a lot of those came from us getting stops, getting out, and not letting them set up in the half court.”
North Attleboro (5-2 Davenport, 5-2 overall) is back in action on Monday when it hosts Foxboro. Canton wraps up its season at 4-6 in the Davenport and 4-9 overall.