ATTLEBORO, Mass. – Having to try and match up with Attleboro’s 6-foot-5, 295-pound center Qualeem Charles for 32 minutes is one of the toughest covers in the entire Hockomock League.
Having to try and stop him for four more minutes in overtime just might be impossible.
Franklin stormed back from a 15-point fourth quarter deficit to tie the game in the final seconds and send the game to overtime but Charles scored half of Attleboro’s points in the overtime period to help the Bombardiers secure a 51-46 decision in overtime.
Charles scored 13 of his game-high 18 points after halftime and hauled of his 17 rebounds after the break as well.
“We always want to go inside, they did a nice job of challenging him early,” said Attleboro head coach Mark Houle. “He’s very unselfish so a lot of the times he got the ball he was kicking it out and we were getting great looks and we weren’t knocking them down. We told him in the second half when you touch the ball, you shoot the ball and he did that more consistently. If he didn’t score the field goal, he went to the line and he hit his foul shots which was key for us.”
After Mason Houle (nine points) and Will Harvey traded three-pointers to open the extra stanza, the Bombardiers got Charles going inside. Kevin Velazquez (six points, nine rebounds) found the big man in the post and Charles used a nice post move to go up two.
The teams traded misses before Attleboro came up short on a Tim Callahan three. But Callahan was quick to hustle back on defense and drew a charge to get the ball back with 1:32 to play and a 46-44 lead.
Attleboro went back inside and Charles was fouled, hitting one of two attempts to extend the lead to 47-44. Franklin missed a three and Charles came down with a big rebound. On the offensive end, the Panthers’ collapsed to try and cover Charles, allowing Velazquez to take it strong to the basket for two.
Franklin once again came up short on a layup attempt and Charles hauled in the rebound while being fouled. He hit two free throws to give Attleboro 51-46 lead with 28 seconds and that’s how the game finished.
After putting up just five shots in the first half total, Charles attempted five field goals in the third quarter and then went 2-for-2 in the fourth.
“I was definitely overlooking at times, I wanted to find teammates,” Charles said. “I know my teammates can make those big shots but they weren’t falling tonight so I had to try and close it out. Eventually my shot started falling. Their bigger players started getting in foul trouble, so I was getting more of a mismatch so I was able to convert.”
There wasn’t much happening for either side in the first half. The teams combined for just six made field goals in the opening eight minutes with Franklin senior Jalen Samuels (eight points, 10 rebounds, five assists) finding Thomas Gasbarro for a layup right before the buzzer to give Franklin a 9-7 edge.
But that would be the last field goal Franklin would make for the half. The Panthers were held scoreless for nearly the entire second quarter. Sean Leonard hit a pair of free throws with 26 seconds left to get Franklin on the board.
Meanwhile while Attleboro’s offense didn’t exactly catch fire, it was able to use an 8-0 run over the first seven minutes. Bryant Ciccio and Nick McMahon made shots while Callahan and Houle sank two free throws apiece. A late bucket from Charles gave Attleboro a 17-11 lead at half.
“It’s a problem, he’s a big kid, and there’s not a lot of guys that can move him when he gets position where he wants to be,” Neely said of matching up with Charles. “We had a plan that was working early but late in the game, I think guys were a bit tired. I stuck with the same lineup for a long time. They get worn down banging around with him for a whole game and he was able to get some baskets, he’s a tough cover.”
The offenses for both sides came alive to start the second half. The Panthers matched their first half production in just over five minutes in the third quarter. Buckets from Chris Edgehill (12 points, eight rebounds), Jake Macchi, and Leonard brought the Panthers within two, 24-22, with 3:46 left in the third.
Attleboro answered with a 10-0 run to close the third quarter. Ciccio, Charles, and Houle hit back-to-back-to-back layups, and McMahon converted down low after a nice offensive rebound and pass from Velazquez to give the Bombardiers a 32-22 advantage heading into the final quarter.
“Coming into the game we talked about defensive stops and consecutive defensive stops and Franklin is terrific at it,” Houle said. “The last three games they’ve given up 40 points or less and they lead the league in defensive scoring average. So we knew we were going to have to execute. We wanted to take care of the ball, be strong with the ball, and attacking them when we can on ball reversals. We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but neither did they, and I think that’s a credit to both defenses.”
It appeared the Bombardiers had the game in hand when they pushed the lead to 37-22 on a Callahan triple, a 15-point advantage with six minutes left.
But Attleboro’s offense stalled as the Panthers continued their pressure defensively. And over those six minutes, shots began to fall for the visitors. Steve Karayan drained a three after a steal from Will Harvey then Edgehill drained a transition three after an Attleboro turnover to make it 37-31 with three minutes to go.
Samuels hit a free throw and Harvey came up with another steal that led to two made free throws, cutting the deficit to 37-34 with two minutes left. After a five-second call on the inbounds, Harvey sank another free throw to make it 37-35.
Attleboro finally got some points on the board when Callahan hit Charles down low and the junior converted with a nice spin move. But Karayan drained another triple to make it a one-point game with just over a minute to go.
Velazquez missed but was fouled as he hustled for the offensive rebound and he sank two free throws with 42.6 to play.
Franklin came up short on the tying three, but the offensive rebound was batted out and corralled. Attleboro chose to foul with a three-point lead with 8.4 to go. The strategy worked as Franklin missed both free throws but the rebound was batted out to Edgehill, who alertly made an extra mass to Karayan for a straightaway three-pointer with 2.4 left, sending the game into overtime tied 41-41.
“We found something that was working down the stretch,” Neely said.”But in the end, we weren’t ourselves in the first half. We weren’t playing the way we needed to play if we wanted to win. You can get away with that sometimes but not on the road at Attleboro in a big game tonight. We played good defense in the first half but they opened it up in the second half. I’m proud of them, they stuck with it. They shared the ball and got back into the game. Free throws hurt us, and that’s cost us basically in every loss this year. It’s frustrating to have a good offensive possession and get to the line and come away with nothing.
“We had a 15 point lead and they whittled it down to go to overtime, that’s Franklin,” Houle said. “They are a very good, gritty team. We knew coming in it wouldn’t be an easy game. As they were coming back, it felt like we weren’t playing to win anymore, we were just trying to hold on. After one of the timeouts, we talked about playing to win. We started to play with a bit more energy and were able to make some plays.”