STOUGHTON, Mass. – With a couple of Hockomock League schools in the process of either planning or building a new high school, here’s a small bit of advice: don’t schedule the Oliver Ames boys basketball team for your first game.
For the second time in five years, the Tigers played spoiler inside a brand new gymnasium. After beating Franklin in its first game of its new gym in 2014, Oliver Ames used a suffocating second half defensive effort to earn a win over Stoughton in the Black Knights’ first game in their brand new school.
The excitement of the first basketball game in the new gym carried onto the court as the Black Knights raced out to a 14-5 lead, holding the visitors to just a pair of field goals over the first eight minutes.
But that momentum did not carry over to the second quarter as the Tigers clawed their way back into the game, and it all but disappeared in the second half as Oliver Ames poured in over 20 points in each the third and fourth quarters to pull away.
Not only did Oliver Ames’ active zone defense limit the hosts to 15 total second half points, but it also led to easy baskets in transition that seemed to spark the OA offense.
“That looked like a first game [early on], which you worry about a little bit,” said Oliver Ames head coach Don Byron, who started his 11th year at the helm of the Tigers with a win. “We had some shots that were makable and didn’t make them, and it snowballs a little bit and it gets contagious with the five guys who are out there. But getting a couple near the end [of the half], a little spurt to get us in shouting distance. When that happened, we were able to settle them a little bit and we were okay.
“And then we just came out and played like we’re capable of playing in the second half. I think we’re going to be a pretty good shooting team and we just didn’t show it in the first half. We showed more of it in the second half.”
A three from Stoughton senior Myles Grigalunas-Powell (nine points, four assists), a strong finish from senior Obinna Ugwuakazi (12 points, 11 rebounds) off a nice feed through traffic from junior Jake Queeney, four points from senior Tahkwan Gates Brown, and a late three from Admad Jahed put the Black Knights in a great position, up 14-5, after a quarter.
Stoughton senior Donte Tyler came off the bench and got a steal and easy layup to push Stoughton’s lead to 22-9 but the Black Knights were unable to really pull away.
OA junior Will Whiteside answered with the Tigers’ lone triple of the half, senior Evan Craig scored a baseline jumper off a feed from classmate Owen Friel, senior Jay Spillane (career-high 18 points) finished off a layup after a Black Knight turnover, and Ryan Burkett (career-high 18 points, nine rebounds) had an easy two after a nice layoff from junior Drew Nickla to complete a 9-2 spurt for the Tigers, getting with six down 26-20 at the break.
“At the half, even though we were up six, we felt like we blew an opportunity because we got selfish,” said Stoughton’s John Gallivan, who is in his 16th year as head coach. We had a chance to blow it open, [OA] was struggling to score at the time, and we had four or five really bad possessions in a row. We always talk about surviving runs and when they made their run, it was like a deer in the headlights. We couldn’t punch back.”
OA came out flying in the third quarter, using its active zone to get a lot of deflections and turnovers as the Knights tried to penetrate or find Ugwuakazi or Gates Brown in the post. Spillane took advantage of a pair of offensive rebounds, first with a quick putback and then again with his first triple of the game.
OA junior Amari Brown (career-high 17 points, three steals) came up with a steal and finished on the break to put the Tigers ahead for the first time with 4:44 left in the third but Gates Brown answered for the Black Knights. Burkett continued his strong game with a nice finish at the time off of a nice pass from Friel. And another turnover from Stoughton led to another fast break finish from Brown, and OA took a 33-30 lead on the back of an 11-2 run.
“I thought it was a good defensive effort in the second half,” Byron said as the Tigers forced 10 second-half turnovers. “It’s not sexy, a lot of the top defensive teams and they are usually up in your face. But we did a good job of covering the things we need to cover. They threw a couple of different looks at us, and the first game out, you don’t know everything they run, so I thought the kids reacted well.”
Stoughton missed on two chances and Spillane made them pay on the other send, draining a high arching triple and the Tigers’ defense came up with another turnover and Brown finished off a traditional three-point play for a 40-31 advantage. Spillane made his three triple of the game to extend the lead to 43-33 but Jahed sank three free throws late to cut the deficit to seven.
The OA lead stayed at seven for the first three minutes of the final quarter before the Tigers finally pulled away. Burkett finished in close, Brown score on another fast break, and Spillane sank his fourth three on his fourth attempt of the half for a 54-39 advantage with just over three minutes to play.
“We kept throwing the same type of passes to the same exact spots, and OA…they are smart kids, they are anticipating,” Gallivan said. “Now they get a couple of easy ones, Brown got a couple of easy ones. We didn’t get anything easy in the entire second half. [OA] was the better team, they deserved to win.”
It was a breakout night for Burkett, who kept the Tigers afloat with his nine first half points. He was 7-for-10 from the field overall and hauled in a team-high nine rebounds against a relatively tall Stoughton team.
“He’s going to sneak up on people a little bit,” Byron said of Burkett. “He’s just got a knack in the lane. He’s a quick jumper, plays bigger and longer than he is, gets his hands on a lot of things. His game reminds me of Cedric Maxwell, everything is from eight feet in. And he’s really good around the hoop, he finishes well.”
Oliver Ames boys basketball (1-0 Hockomock, 1-0 overall) hits the road on Tuesday to take on Taunton while Stoughton (0-1, 0-1) welcomes North Attleboro to town on the same night.
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