FOXBORO, Mass. — Sharon knew its offense could keep them in the game, but if they wanted to complete the comeback it had to be done on the defensive end.
The Eagles got all the stops they needed, holding Foxboro scoreless for the final four minutes of regulation and forced a huge turnover with 30 seconds to go in the extra period that led to the go-ahead basket, and Sharon earned a hard-fought 74-71 overtime win over the Warriors.
Foxboro junior Ryan Cotter (15 points, six rebounds, five assists) converted his own miss to take a 71-70 lead with just under 1:30 to play and despite the Warriors getting a stop, Sharon was able to get the ball back after forcing a turnover.
The Eagles tossed it out of bounds themselves but head coach Andrew Ferguson quickly entered his defensive subs, and the move paid off.
Sophomore Sam Letendre deflected the inbounds pass and it went right to the hands of junior Ryan Brown — two players that just came in for defensive purposes — and Brown quickly laid it in for two and the lead.
Sharon kept its full-court pressure and as Foxboro tried to break it, Tyler Goodman came soaring in from his own half and intercepted a lob pass. He was fouled and sank two from the line with 22.3 seconds to go to give the Eagles a 74-71 lead.
Foxboro had one look at a three that was off the mark and out on Sharon. On the ensuing inbounds, Sharon quickly fouled to prevent another and held on for the win.
“We knew we’d have to get stops to get back into that game,” Ferguson said. “We focus so much on our core values and two of them are physical rebounding and aggressive defense. I think that’s what got us back into the game. Relentless pressure from our guards, I thought Nate Katznelson did a fantastic job down low. We felt like in the first half, bad offense bled into bad defense. We turned up the defense in the second half and I think that really helped our offense too.”
Foxboro’s Ryan LeClair (15 points, five assists) hit three and Ian Foley made a nice cut to the basket for a layup to hand the Warriors an eight-point edge at 67-59 with just over four minutes to go. The Warriors held a 10-point lead at halftime and kept the Eagles at arm’s length for the majority of the second half.
From there, the Eagles grinded out an 8-0 run over the final minutes to force the extra period.
Jack Bates split a pair of defenders for a layup, Matt Baur (13 points, three rebounds) hit a jumper, and after a two-minute scoreless stretch from both sides, the Eagles turned a steal from Baur into a layup from junior Nate Katznelson (24 points, six rebounds) on a nice feed from Jacob McLoughlin (10 points, six assists) to cut the deficit to just 67-65 with 1:30 to go in regulation.
Sharon’s defense got a stop, surviving a turnaround three in the corner and a putback bid at the shot clock. On the offensive end, McLoughlin got around his man, drew the help, and dropped one off to Goodman (12 points, five rebounds, five assists) for an easy two to make it 67-67.
Each team had a chance inside the final 20 seconds but Foxboro had a turnover and the Eagles’ three-point attempt at the buzzer was off.
“We scored 67 points in regulation, I just told the guys that has to be enough to win,” said Foxboro head coach Jon Gibbs. “We have to be able to get big stops down the stretch and close games out with our defense. With the lead at the half, the eight-point lead going into the fourth, and being at home…we just have to get a little more consistent with our execution defensively so we can close those games out.
“The effort was there, there’s no doubt we competed hard and gave everything we had for the entire game, we just have to execute a little better on the defensive end.”
Entering the game, both teams were among the top five scoring teams in the Hockomock League and combined to feature five of the top 16 scorers in the league. Add in Sharon’s Matt Baur, a HockomockSports First Team selection from a year ago, that was playing in his first league game of the year.
So it wasn’t a big surprise when the offense was the story early on. Baur, Cotter, Sharon’s Dante James, LeClair, and Goodman all traded threes for the first five field goals of the game. There was little separation in the first eight minutes and the Eagles and Warriors finished level at 17-17.
The back-and-forth continued in the second with Alex Penders (19 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Katznelson trading buckets, followed by Foxboro’s Sam Golub and Katznelson trading shots. It wasn’t until the final three minutes of the half that Foxboro found some separation.
Golub hit a jumper and then found Penders for two more. Foley found Penders with a difficult baseline feed, and Cotter capped the 8-0 run with a layup to give the Warriors a 36-26 halftime lead.
Foxboro’s lead fluctuate for the third quarter but never went away. Any time the Warriors threatened to pull away, the Eagles answered. Cotter found LeClair for two to push the lead to a dozen midway through the third only for Katznelson to answer with a triple, and then a steal and score from James. A putback from Katznelson closed the gap down to five.
The Warriors answered with an 8-0 burst capped by a three from Penders as the lead peaked at 13 points (52-39) but over the final two minutes, Sharon stayed in it by closing the quarter with a 7-2 run.
“We have a tough stretch with Foxboro, Franklin, and Mansfield in a row and we had some time off so we were able to mix some things in defensively,” Ferguson said. The Eagles deployed a zone at times on top of some full-court pressure. “What a job by Sam Letendre and Ryan Brown at the end, coming in and forcing that turnover and getting the bucket. Those guys know what their roles are, coming in and playing defense. I’m super proud of them for their effort.”
Sharon’s increased pressure defensively resulted in an increase in Foxboro turnovers. The Warriors had seven total at halftime but the Eagles forced seven more in each of the third and fourth quarters, and four more in overtime.
“We’ve been very good taking care of the ball but Sharon makes an effort to pressure the ball, reach and gamble for steals, and deny passing lanes,” Gibbs said. “They really look to create offense off of their defense. Certainly give credit to their defense for putting us under pressure.”
Sharon boys basketball (3-1 Hockomock, 5-1 overall) returns home to take on Kelley-Rex division-leading Franklin on Tuesday. Foxboro (1-3, 4-3) is back at home against King Philip.
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