ATTLEBORO, Mass. – It’s no secret that Attleboro’s 6’5 sophomore Qualeem Charles can be a game changer. But with opponents making him the focus of their defensive game plan, getting him the ball in the right spots can be a challenge.
For three and half quarters, Taunton nearly neutralized the big man, fronting him in its man-to-man defense, bringing weak side help and even double teaming when necessary. But over the final five minutes of play, Attleboro finally got Charles going.
The sophomore scored eight of his 11 points in that stretch, helping the shorthanded Bombardiers — playing without three starters — outscore the Tigers 16-7 and pick up a key division win, 57-47.
“Coming into this game we knew it was going to be a pretty big challenge for us as a program,” said AHS head coach Mark Houle. “I’m really proud of the team for stepping up. We had kids that haven’t played a lot come in and give us some quality minutes.”
Holding a 41-40 led with five minutes to go, Charles (15 rebounds) finally got into a rhythm. He increased the lead to three of a feed from Nate Douglas (nine points, six assists). Charles had all 11 of his points in the second half after the Tigers held him without a point over the first 16 minutes.
“We were a bit slow getting the inside game going and I think we were forcing it too much,” Houle said. “In the fourth quarter we started doing a better job, we kept moving the ball and keeping the flow of the offense. We used the whole court and that really opened up the inside. It was really nothing more than just good ball movement.”
Kevin Velazquez scored on a floater in the lane only for Taunton sophomore Prince Brown to answer with a three, keeping the deficit at two. Sophomore Jason Weir, who was starting his first game, drained a pair of free throws on one end and Velazquez came away with a block from behind on the other end.
That allowed Attleboro get up the court and Velazquez dumped a pass over the top to Charles for an easy lay-in and a 49-43 lead.
Despite coming off with an offensive rebound on its next possession, Taunton turned the ball over. That led to another connection between Velazquez and Charles, the latter finishing after an up fake to extend the lead to eight.
An inbounds violation gave Attleboro possession back, and Charles hit one of two free throws on back-to-back possessions for a 53-43 lead with a minute to go.
“Taunton did a nice job early in the game taking away the inside presence,” Houle said. “We were forcing it to him early on the first pass. We realized that wasn’t working. The kids trusted the offense and kept moving it until we got a better look. We had a lot more passes per possession in the last six minutes of the game and that opened up the inside game.”
The Tigers and Bombardiers were near inseparable through three quarters. A pair of free throws from sophomore Dante Law (10 points, eight rebounds) helped pull Taunton into an 18-18 tie after the first quarter.
Both offenses cooled down significantly in the second, scoring just six points apiece to a 24-24 score at halftime.
Douglas converted on a feed from sophomore Bryant Ciccio (19 points, five rebounds) put Attleboro up six, and a free throw from Charles gave the Bombardiers their best lead, 37-28, with just over a minute left in the third.
Taunton junior John Martins (eight points, three assists) scored five straight to get the Tigers within five at the end of three. The Tigers then used a 7-3 surge over the first three minutes of the fourth to get within one.
Lens Esquil (18 points, 10 rebounds) scored early to make it a three-point game, and Law followed up with a bucket down low against the zone to make it a one-point game. A free throw from Brown tied the game at 38 but Weir drained a triple to give Attleboro the lead back.
“Guys stepped up tonight…Jason Weir in his first career start, he played like an upperclassman today. He got some key rebounds, he was strong with the basketball,” Houle said. “Bryant Ciccio continued to be steady for us, putting teammates in good positions.”
Law scored again to make it a one-point game, but Charles took control over the final five minutes.
In the final five minutes, Taunton went 3-for-8 from the field with a pair of turnovers. Attleboro also had three offensive rebounds during the stretch.
“We got into these lulls, and we seem to crack under not so great pressure,” said THS head coach Charlie Dacey. “[Attleboro] scores easily and we don’t. And getting the ball to [Charles] is a pretty good way to score easily. We have to really work hard to get a good shot, and sometimes when we get a good shot and we miss it.”
With Attleboro playing a zone defense for the majority of the game, Taunton was held to its lowest scoring output of the season, including just 4-for-14 from three.
“With a short bench, we wanted the tempo tonight to be our tempo,” Houle said. “The kids did a nice job controlling the tempo of the game, not allowing too many transition baskets. We knew they’d be effective in their zone offense at times, but as the game kind of progressed, the zone kind of was shrinking with Lens getting it in the high post and Dante getting it in the short corner. But our guards did a nice job of shrinking the zone down. I know they hit some outside shots but fortunately not enough of them.”
Attleboro boys basketball (5-3 Hockomock, 8-3 overall) will look to make it two in a row when it hosts rival North Attleboro on Tuesday at 6:30. Taunton (4-4, 7-5) will look to bounce back when it travels to rival Coyle & Cassidy on Sunday at 1:00.