NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – The North Attleboro boys basketball team was on the verge of running away with a win during the third period, but visiting Stoughton made enough plays to stay in striking distance.
When given a second chance to put the game to bed, the Rocketeers didn’t take their foot off the pedal and ran away with a 61-36 decision over the Black Knights.
North extended its lead to 15 points with three minutes left in the third but the Black Knights chipped away, led by some hustle plays from junior Connor Andrews. Andrews took a charge and hauled in a pair of defensive rebounds on one end, and scored five straight on the other end to keep the visitors’ hopes alive, down 36-26.
But the Rocketeers’ offense couldn’t be contained in the fourth quarter. Senior George Ladd (eight rebounds) scored 11 of his game-high 21 points in the final frame, taking advantage of Stoughton turnovers and second-chance points. North ended up with 25 points in the quarter, pulling away for the win.
“In the third quarter we kind of relaxed a little and took our foot off the gas,” admitted North Attleboro head coach Sean Mulkerrins, who is in his eighth year at the helm. “In the fourth, I thought our defensive focus was better, our rebounding focus was better, and our attention to protecting the ball was better and I think that was the difference. We thought we had a better man-to-man defense scheme than we executed the first game so we worked a lot on that in practice.”
Junior Casey Poirier set the tone in the first minute, taking a charge as the Rocketeers’ defense forced back-to-back turnovers to start the quarter. On the other end, senior Edan Kelley (seven points, five assists) found Ladd cutting backdoor on an inbounds play, a lob finished plus the foul for a three-point play and the Rocketeers were off and running.
Kelley found Jared Vacher for two and Ladd hit two free throws after a Stoughton turnover. Kelley and Ladd hooked up once again with the latter using a nice scoop finish. Poirier’s hard drive drew the defense’s attention and Ladd was there to finish again. Vacher missed the front end of a one-and-one but grabbed his own miss and snuck a layup in.
Three of Stoughton’s next four possessions resulted in turnovers, the last two turning into back-to-back buckets for Ladd and Brody Rosenberg (11 points, seven rebounds), as North opened the quarter with a 17-7 run and took a 53-33 lead with just over three minutes to go.
“We’re not really a team that gets up and forces a lot of turnovers, we’re trying to play solid defense without giving up easy ones,” Mulkerrins said. “With everything going on this season, lack of practice, roster moves, I think that’s naturally going to lead to turnovers so if you can just be solid defensively, more often than not you’ll be in a good spot.”
Besides the first basket of the game from Stoughton junior KC Ugwuakazi (eight points, 11 rebounds), the Rocketeers never trailed. The response was a 14-2 run in the opening quarter. Rosenberg sliced through the defense, Ladd cleaned up a miss, Kelley confidently sank a triple, Poirier hit one from the line and Ladd scored again. Kelley scored back-to-back baskets and North stretched its lead to double digits in the opening quarter.
“When a couple of things go wrong, and it feels like we’re down a hundred then we try to make up all the points on one play instead of slowly chipping away at it,” said first-year Stoughton head coach Evan Taylor. “I think it starts with a better start at the beginning of the game.”
“I think the biggest concern is on the offensive end. We’ve been playing pretty well defensively, holding teams to reasonable scores besides tonight. But we’re just not scoring enough, we’re not being aggressive enough. I don’t think we’re being unselfish enough. We have too many guys looking for their own shot and it shows on the scoreboard. Our offense as a whole needs to play more together.”
The second was a bit better for the Black Knights, who outscored the hosts 10-9 in the frame. Both Andrews and Jake Queeney connected from three-point range to keep Stoughton close but North got some key contributions from its bench, as it did throughout the entire game.
After Queeney’s triple cut the deficit to four, Nate Bennett’s hustle led to a putback off his own miss. And Rosenberg hit a key triple late in the quarter, getting an open look after a nice off-ball screen from Jason Rodriguez.
The contributions from the bench continued into the third as Tommy Onorato knocked down a triple on one end and Rodriguez stepped in to take a charge on Stoughton’s ensuing possession.
“I have all the faith in the world in every single one of these kids,” said Mulkerrins, who played his entire available roster, most in meaningful minutes. “They are here every day, working hard in practice…we’re trying to pride ourselves this year on having really competitive practices and giving guys a chance. We talk about when guys come off the bench, the energy level has to go up. We had guys do that tonight, Jason Rodriguez stepped up and his focus was there, we got the ball in his hand on offense. I was really proud of the group tonight, they really made the best of their minutes.”
Stoughton got a stop early in the third but the defensive rebound was quickly turned over and Rosenberg dished it off to Ladd for two. Two more from Rosenberg and Onorato’s three pushed North’s lead to 32-17.
North Attleboro (2-1) returns to action on Tuesday when it travels to take on Canton (3-1). Stoughton (0-4) will look for its first win when it hosts Foxboro on the same day.