The Panthers shot nearly 70% from two-point range, connected on eight three pointers in the first half alone and connected on almost 80% of their free throws, taking a 79-66 win over #13 Oliver Ames.
It took just four minutes for the hosts to create a double-digit lead. Hitting three of their first five three pointer attempts and going a perfect 3/3 on takes to the basket, Whitman-Hanson was up 15-4 halfway through the opening quarter.
The closest Oliver Ames was able to get the rest of the way was six, at 30-24, with 3:45 left to play in the first half.
“They kind of took us out of something we’d hoped we would be able to do, something that we were doing down the stretch,” said Oliver Ames head coach Don Byron of his defense. “Second half of the year we had fallen into that matchup and handed it pretty well…not so much tonight. We tried to withstand the barrage they had early. We were down 10 before we knew what hit us. We ended up staying in that 10-13 point range for an awful long time. We battled even for a good part of it but they had that early lead.”
After going down 10 at the end of the first quarter (23-13), Oliver Ames settled in some in the second quarter. A 7-3 run – helped along by a bucket from Dylan Mahoney (11 points, seven rebounds), a three from Nick Welch (16 points, seven assists), and a layup from Jack Spillane (12 points) – brought the Tigers within two possessions at the midway point of the second quarter.
But Whitman-Hanson responded with a three from Nikko Raftes (27 points) and a basket underneath from Jacob Hanson-Bartlett (11 points, 5 rebounds) to stretch the lead back to double figures. The Tigers finished the first half on a 5-0 run over the final minute – two free throws from Matt Muir (12 points) and a three from Welch – to stay within striking distance (38-31) at the break.
But a slow start to the second half quickly erased Oliver Ames’ chance to get close. A 6-0 run from Whitman-Hanson pushed the lead to 13 before Oliver Ames finally scored in the quarter. Welch hit a three just over two minutes in to make it a 10 point game – an advantage the Panthers held for the majority of the quarter.
It wasn’t until a wild final minute of the third quarter that the game became out of reach. Up 50-40, the Panthers managed an 8-0 run in 60 seconds to close the frame. A layup from Lucas Franklin (13 points), a jumper from Luke Tamulevich (21 points, eight rebounds), a bucket down low from Hanson-Bartlett and two free throws from Raftes made it 58-40 heading into the final quarter.
“We had to come out of ourselves a little bit, gamble a lot and foul and hope for the best,” Byron said. “And the best didn’t happen. They shot really well from the foul line, they never gave us a shot at getting it to six or seven. We could never quite get it there.”
The Tigers were forced into a full court approach. Already in the bonus, Oliver Ames attempted steals off the inbounds but often had to settle for fouls against the Panthers.
Whitman-Hanson didn’t blink – making 18 of their 24 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter. The Panthers, who did have four turnovers in the final quarter, made 26/33 of their attempts from the charity stripe.
Throughout the season, Oliver Ames – as many teams do – thrived on small runs that can change the course of a game. They never got that run though, the best being either the 7-3 run to get within six in the second quarter or the 5-0 run to end the first half.
“That’s a credit to [Whitman-Hanson],” Byron said. “Their guard play is good. Lately, we’ve had pretty good success with what we do, with our matchups, to let Welch gamble a little bit and if you make a mistake he makes you play. He probably averaged five or six forced turnovers the second half of the season. But we didn’t get a ton of turnovers tonight because their guard play was solid.”
While Oliver Ames gambled and sent the Panthers to the line, their offense came to live. The Tigers scored 26 points in the final frame, with 19 coming in the final four minutes. Senior Carter Evin (seven rebounds) scored 10 of his 14 points in the final quarter.
“When we settle down and put the film online, I told the kids to watch the last four minutes of the game,” Byron said. “I was so proud of those four minutes as I was of anything we did all year. We did a lot too. There were people questioning if we could handle the jump to the big side [of the Hock]. And our non-league schedule became very difficult. People simply don’t want to play Hockomock teams. We’re a Division 2 team in name only, we’re looked at as D1 school because that’s what we play. We ended up with more Division 1 schools on the non-league schedule and the kids withstood the whole thing. They did a great job, it was a fun group that was very coachable.”
Oliver Ames boys basketball finishes the season 13-11.