And on top of that, the Taunton boys basketball team had just one practice to prepare following a one-week layoff.
The Tigers overcame both obstacles, alleviating any fears of rust with a strong start that set the tone for the rest of the way in a 72-66 win over the visiting Hornets.
The win marked Taunton’s first win over Mansfield since January 2016, snapping a 10-game skid.
“I was really afraid of the rust factor, I was exactly afraid of a slow start,” said Taunton head coach Charlie Dacey.
But Dacey’s fears were quickly erased as the Tigers opened the game with their best offensive quarter of the game (21 points) to establish a lead that they only relinquished once, and briefly, in the third quarter.
“Shaking [any rust] right away was huge, they didn’t lose any confidence,” Dacey said after his side his half of their 16 shots from the field in the first eight minutes. “Having an experienced group helps with that. We’re running some stuff but [Mansfield] knows it, they’re taking away what we have so we’re adjusting on the fly. The kids did some self-adjusting on the floor which is real important.”
Taunton extended its lead to 38-29 by halftime but Mansfield came out with a renewed energy to start the second half and slowly chipped away at the lead. A big three from sophomore Chris Hill (13 points, 5 rebounds) finally made a real dent in Taunton’s lead, and then Matt Boen (31 points) and Hill scored back-to-back to make it a three-point game, down 47-44.
“I think a lot of it when there were some 50-50 balls, Taunton wanted it a little bit more,” offered Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan. “I bet when the stats come out, they probably won more 50-50 balls by a two-to-one margin. We talked at halftime if you don’t win those battles against a good quality basketball team, 90% of the time you lose and this was 90% of the time. Game for game, the stat lines look good. We did some good things, they did some good things, we both hit shots. It was really two high-quality teams that were well prepared.
“We thought in the third quarter and early in the fourth, they might be running out of gas a little bit but they found extra energy and made some plays down the stretch and took care of business.”
Hill had a strong take to his left for two with just under two minutes to go in the third and the Hornets grabbed their first lead of the game when Boen hit one of his four threes for a 49-47 lead. It was a momentum swing that has forced many Hockomock foes to fold in the past, but Taunton was able to recover before the end of the quarter.
The Tigers broke the press and junior Trent Santos (22 points, seven assists, six rebounds) found Nigel Choate wide open with a nice pass underneath for two to tie it back up. Tyler Stewart (12 points, 22 rebounds, 5 blocks) converted down low and Josh Lopes (13 points, 4 assists) added two more as Taunton took a 53-52 lead into the final quarter.
“They maintain their confidence in those moments and they have a good chemistry together,” Dacey said. “They believe in each other and trust each other and that’s really important in high school basketball.
The teams took turns landing jabs in the final quarter, each time Taunton scored to extend its lead, the Hornets had an answer to keep it close. Stewart added two from the line and junior Tristan Herry (eight points, six assists, two steals) hit a three late in the shot clock only for Mansfield senior Brendan Foley to answer with back-to-back strong takes to the rim.
“Stewart has a major impact inside, whether it’s a post touch, an offensive rebound, keeping a ball alive, or just the amount of energy we have to focus on him leaves some other guys open,” Vaughan said. “I’ve said it in the past about our teams, when you get a fourth or fifth guy stepping up making some critical play in a huge game, that sometimes separates you.
“[Herry] hitting the three at the top…we doubled the post, we did everything we wanted, we rotated off what we mark as not their top shooter and he hits a three. When you get stuff like that…Taunton is a very talented deep team with a lot of pieces that can cause matchup problems all over the place.”
Santos took advantage of a steal and scored in transition, and after a Mansfield miss, Herry linked up with Santos for a big three. Herry then found Faisal Mass (13 points, eight rebounds) in good position down low for two and the Tigers had a 65-57 lead at the halfway point of the final quarter.
Jack Colby (11 points, five rebounds) answered with two from the line for the Hornets and Foley came up with a steal and assist, finding Boen for two in transition to cut it back to for. After a Taunton miss, Boen sank a pull up jumper and it was back to a two-point game.
Santos floated a perfectly weighted entry pass to Stewart down low for an easy two. With time ticking away, the Hornets elected to foul Mass to send him to the line for one-and-one. Mass hit the first to push the lead to 68-63 with 1:16 to play.
Unsurprisingly, the Hornets once again had an answer as Boen took a handoff from Colby and drained an off-balance three to make it 68-66. Mansfield continued to press but the hosts passed through it, Herry finding Santos at half court who skipped a pass to Mass for a layup.
Taunton got a stop on a missed three but Mansfield appeared to have the offensive rebound. Instead of getting a second look, Herry came swooping in and knocked the ball free to get Taunton the ball back. Three passes later, Santos had an open layup to make it 72-66 with 20 seconds to go.
The teams won’t have to wait long to renew acquaintances as Taunton boys basketball (6-0 Kelley-Rex, 6-0 overall) travels to Mansfield (8-1, 12-1) on Monday at 6:15.