WRENTHAM, Mass. — King Philip sophomore Jack Assini hasn’t played many meaningful minutes so far this season as he splits time between varsity and JV, but head coach Dave DeStefano was looking for some help defense against a potent Taunton offense.
Not only did Assini deliver on the defensive end, he provided a huge spark offensively with a career-high 13 points and helped ignite a huge fourth quarter for the Warriors, who ran away with a 70-51 decision over the Tigers.
Assini hit three three-pointers, including two in the fourth quarter, while sophomore Tommy Kilroy hit four threes on his way to tying a career-high 21 points. Seniors Will Laplante and Tommy Martorano each sank three more triples as the Warriors tied a season-high with 13 made three-pointers on 43% shooting.
“Jack’s shown some great improvement in practice and even in the games he’s gotten into, his defensive intensity has really shown,” DeStefano said. “We knew they’d look to attack a lot and he does a great job with on-ball defense so I knew he’d play. I didn’t expect to use him as much as we did but he was our team MVP tonight and we don’t win that game without him.
“He had a good shooting performance at practice yesterday and I just told him to do that again tonight. He shot with confidence tonight and as soon as that first one went in, he was feeling it.”
The Tigers spent the second half clawing back into the game. KP turned a four-point advantage at halftime (26-22) into a 13-point lead with an 11-3 surge in the middle of the third quarter as Laplante (19 points, 10 rebounds, 6 steals, 4 assists) hit a pair of threes, Kilroy had another, and Martorano (13 points, 7 rebounds) broke free in transition for an easy bucket.
Taunton rallied with threes from freshman Jakari Innocent and senior Al Morriseau (career-high 14 points, 5 rebounds) plus a layup through contact from junior Troy Santos (7 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds). But Kilroy answered with two and Assini sank his first triple with just seconds left to restore an eight-point advantage at 45-37.
The visitors once again clawed back into it with a 9-3 run to start the fourth with back-to-back buckets from seniors Chris Perault (13 points, 4 rebounds) and Chris Volcy (8 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals) and a triple from Santos to make it a two-point game, 48-46, with six minutes to play in the fourth.
Kilroy answered with a triple on the other end and the floodgates opened for the hosts as they finished the game with a 22-5 run in the last five minutes.
“I think we completed the circle of learning to play with the lead,” DeStefano said. “You know teams are going to make runs, we knew Taunton would make one and it’s about how you respond. I think we did a good job of responding to it tonight. Now that we’ve learned that, I think we can have a nice little run the rest of the way.
“I think tonight was the first time we really had the threes in the flow of the offense. We take a lot of threes so there’s going to be times when we take them early and take them in transition but as long as they shoot with confidence, we’ll be in good shape.”
Kilroy stretched the lead with another three-pointer after a rebound from sophomore Tommy McLeish and feed from senior Grant Kinney (7 rebounds, 5 assists), and Assini scored five straight as KP’s lead ballooned to double digits. Like Assini, Kilroy finished with eight points in the fourth quarter.
“I think he’s definitely found his niche on this team,” DeStefano said of Kilroy, who is now third on the team in scoring. “Coming in we asked him to be a defensive guy, to do all the dirty work and do those things that don’t really show up in the scorebook. And I think now that he’s done that, he’s taken the next step on the offensive end. He’s starting to drive with confidence, shoot with confidence too.”
Taunton took a lead with a strong second quarter but had a cold spell to finish the half as KP rattled off an 11-0 run to take a lead into halftime as the Tigers were forced to put three starters on the bench with foul trouble. The Tigers didn’t lead at any point in the second half.
“Our shot selection had to improve,” said Taunton head coach Charlie Dacey. “There were times when we took some quick shots, not necessarily bad ones but quick ones and we made that run…but then we had a couple of quick shots in a row and then they opened it back up. Now they’re steaming and we’re stalled offensively. We had a little confusion on the offensive that turned into a turnover or a bad shot, and that’s stuff that we need to have better control of at this point in the season.
“We were rushing things, and there are times we can get away with it but tonight, anytime we made a mistake we paid for it. [KP] was pumped up, they were flying around tonight.”
King Philip boys basketball (6-4 Hockomock, 8-5 overall) faces a big test on Tuesday when it welcomes Mansfield. Taunton (7-3, 8-4) visits New Bedford on Sunday before hosting Foxboro on Tuesday.