Facing a 17-point second half deficit, the Black Knights were starring at the possibility of a second straight loss against a team they were capable of beating.
Behind a ramped-up defensive effort, improved shooting, and a big fourth quarter performance from senior captain Josh Cocchi, Stoughton erased that deficit and walked away with a 64-58 win over Weston.
“We’re thrilled to get this one today because we knew we could have played better on Friday night,” said Stoughton head coach John Gallivan.
A big second quarter gave the Wildcats a 37-24 advantage at the break. Weston extended that lead to 43-26 on a three-pointer by Jake Corbett with 5:44 to play in the third. Stoughton, which had struggled from the field in the first half (22% shooting) began to find its rhythm.
A pair of free throws from junior Obinna Ugwuakazi (26 points, 12 rebounds, 3 steals) started a 10-0 burst for the Black Knights. Stoughton’s improvement on offense was almost a direct result from its defensive energy. The Knights extended a 2-2-1 press that forced Weston into four turnovers and 0-for-5 shooting from the field in that stretch.
Ugwuakazi scored down low on an assist from Ajahn Rue after a Weston miss, and Myles Grigalunas-Powell scored on a break after Rue came up with a steal. Zak Paquette found Ugwuakazi for a tough two, and the press forced a turnover on a carry.
A steal from Eddie Aldama led to an elbow jumper from Ugwuakazi to make it 45-38 with 2:28 left in the third. A three-point play from Weston pushed the lead back to 10 but a baseline drive from Paquette and a three-point play from Ugwuakazi with just 6.5 left brought the Knights within five but Weston beat the buzzer to take a 50-43 lead into the fourth.
“I think starting 13 or 14-for-14 from the free throw line helped a lot,” Gallivan said of what went into the comeback. “We did a good job of changing of the tempo with the three quarter court zone press. It just made them maybe think a little bit before they stepped into wide open shots like they had in the first half. They looked unbeatable in the second quarter. But the kids hung in there, and we talked at halftime about having one run in us and we did.”
Ugwuakazi had 13 of his 26 points in the third quarter.
“He had a great practice yesterday,” Gallivan said. “They probably didn’t get a good look at him when they scouted Friday night (limited minutes). So it was a good opportunity for him and he took advantage of it.”
A free throw from Ugwuakazi was followed by a turnover by Weston — a travel forced by Stoughton’s pressure. Senior Josh Cocchi hit three-pointer for the Knights, making it a three-point game with 6:22 to go.
It marked Stoughton’s first triple since 2:19 left in the first quarter. The Black Knights had shot 1-for-22 from deep before Cocchi’s make.
“We haven’t shot well all year,” Gallivan said. “It’s about that time to start shooting well. But defense helps obviously. You can’t let your defense, or lack thereof, affect your offense. And we did that at times during the first half.”
Cocchi sank a pair of free throws to get within one but Corbett answered on the other end for the Wildcats. Cocchi came back down the other way, took a feed from Rue and drained another three while being fouled. He converted the free throw to give Stoughton its first lead of the second half, 53-52, with 4:32 to go.
Weston briefly regained the lead on a three-point play by Corbett but Rue answered with a three on the other end to put Stoughton back in front, 56-55, with 3:49 to go.
The Knights got a stop on one end with Ugwuakazi grabbing the rebound. On the other end, Rue found Ugwuakazi with a nice pass and he extended the advantage to 58-55. Cocchi hit one of two free throws after earning a trip to the line with a nice box out.
Thomas Sanda came up with a key loose ball, and after a pair of empty trips from each side, Sanda took a nice feed from Cocchi for an easy two to make it 61-55. Cocchi (1-for-2) and Sanda (2-for-2) added free throws in the final minute to make it 64-58.
“Josh Cocchi was huge [in the fourth],” Gallivan said. “Obinna obviously had a good game but Cocchi was great in the fourth quarter with 11 points. And Tommy Sanda…we say it all the time, he’s always in the right place, he’s always listening, he’s the smartest player on the court so at some point I have to say to myself, ‘Why isn’t he playing more?’ I told him after the first half to be ready because he was going to go back in and he did a nice job.”
Stoughton boys basketball (5-2) resumes Hockomock League play on Friday, January 4th when it travels to Davenport division rival Canton (2-1) for a 6:30 tipoff.