BOSTON, Mass. – Playing on the legendary parquet floor at the TD Garden can certainly be overwhelming; the lights are brighter, the music is louder, there’s a Jumbotron, thousands of more seats, and not to mention a long list of Hall of Famers that have played on the same floor.
But Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan is essentially a veteran when it comes to games at the TD Garden, between playoff appearances and previous appearances in the Good Sports Invitation.
So his message to his team was simple.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a basketball game. It’s the same size court we play on at home, it’s a round ball, it’s a round basket and you have to try and put it in more than your opponent,” Vaughan told his team before the game. “I think the environment can be a little intimidating. I think it relaxed our nerves when we got a couple mistakes out of the way early and found our rhythm.”
Mansfield took the message in stride, racing out to a 9-0 lead, a 24-9 advantage after the first quarter, and led by as much as 20 (33-13) in the first half in a convincing 73-53 win over Cardinal Spellman.
Tyler Boulter (five points, eight rebounds) opened the scoring, Justin Vine (10 points, five rebounds) followed with a layup, John McCoy (20 points, nine rebounds) followed with a strong take to the basket, and Vine splashed in a triple for a quick 9-0 lead just three minutes into the game.
A three from Boulter extended Mansfield’s lead to double digits (14-4) and Mansfield finished with a 10-5 run the rest of the quarter, including four straight from Sam Hyland (10 points, seven rebounds), a pair of putbacks from McCoy and a pull up jumper from Khristian Conner.
“I think we always try to come out early and try to go for it right from the start, get hot early,” Hyland said. “That helps us get used to the environment and then we want to make other teams catch us instead of chasing them. I think we did a pretty good job in the second half of keeping them where we wanted to.”
A traditional three-point play from McCoy gave the Hornets their largest lead at 33-13 at the midway point of the second quarter, but the Cardinals finally came to life. Spellman finished the half with a 13-5 run, limiting Mansfield to just two field goals in the final four minutes.
The run kept the Cardinals within striking distance, 36-26, at the halftime break.
Mansfield made sure the run didn’t continue into the second half as both Vine and McCoy hit threes to keep the Hornets lead in double-digits. When Spellman cut the deficit down to 14, McCoy hit a layup, Hyland drove for two, and then Hyland converted a breakaway after Scott tipped away a pass.
“We got a little carried away on offense and we weren’t talking as much on defense,” McCoy said of the end of the first half. “Coach told us we had to get back into our routine and do what we do on offense and communicate better on defense.”
Junior Damani Scott scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half to help keep the Hornets in front.
Leading by 15 heading into the final period, the Hornets never let the game get close and outscored the Cardinals 19-14 in the final frame.
“We knew they were a tough team to come from behind and try and beat, or even stay in the game period,” said Spellman coach Mike Perry. I thought we had some good shots in the first period that didn’t fall and unfortunately, their shots were falling. [Mansfield] is a pretty good team, they knocked off Newton North, who has knocked off Cambridge and Needham, so they are one of the top teams in the state… We’re a small school, not that we aren’t playing the teams we need to be playing, but I thought Mansfield shot the ball extremely well tonight.”
Mansfield boys basketball (9-1 Hockomock, 13-2 overall) returns to action on Tuesday when it entertains Milford. The Hornets’ players are hoping to return to the TD Garden later on in the season with a deep playoff run.
“That’s one of our goals is to get back here in the state tournament,” McCoy said.
“We definitely want to be back here for a game that means even more,” Hyland added.
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