STOUGHTON, Mass. – With a combination of experienced, young, and new players on the team this year, Stoughton head coach John Gallivan has yet to determine how the pieces of the puzzle best fit together.
And while it may take a couple of games to integrate the team and find the best lineups at the right times, his most experienced varsity players stepped up in key moments to help deliver a 66-62 win on opening night against Archbishop Williams.
Senior captain Zak Paquette scored nine of his career-high 16 points in the final quarter while junior Ajahn Rue (10 points) buried a three with under a minute left to help the Black Knights fend off a comeback attempt from the Bishops.
“Zak had some big buckets for us in the fourth quarter and I thought the three that Ajahn hit by our bench late was huge,” Gallivan said. “It came right in the flow of the game and it was the kind of thing that should have happened instead of being forced. It was a gutsy shot when it should have been taken and obviously we needed it.
“We still have to figure out a lot of pieces, where they go and how they fit.”
While Archies had the strong start (11-2 lead in the first quarter), it was Stoughton that had success throughout the middle quarters. Paquette’s first triple of the game just under a minute the final quarter off a pass from Kevin Dixon gave Stoughton its largest lead at 55-39 and it looked like Stoughton was set to run away with the game.
But Archies refused to go away, making it a single digit game (59-50) but the midway point of the quarter, and used a 7-2 spurt to get within four, 61-57, with just under two minutes to go.
Stoughton responded with a key stretch, Paquette finishing underneath after a nice feed from senior Edward Aldama (four points, four rebounds) and then Rue came up with a steal to get possession back. Rue and Paquette combined for a two-man game in the corner, the passing resulting in a three from Rue and a 66-57 lead with 38 seconds to play.
Archies took an early lead but Stoughton was able to claw back into the game and make it a one-possession game after eight minutes. After an emotional pregame ceremony that honored David Bell and Nick Joyce, two of four Stoughton students that passed away in a tragic accident last May. Bell was slated to be a senior captain this season and Joyce played of sub varsity last season but attended plenty of varsity games over the years watching older brother Kris Joyce (1,000 point scorer).
Stoughton came out flying but the energy didn’t translate into points as the Bishops staked an 11-2 lead. From there, the Knights settled in and made a game of it. Rue, Myles Grigalunas-Powell, and Tahkwan Gates Brown (six points) came off the bench to help Stoughton get in gear.
The Knights closed the quarter with a 7-2 run, highlighted by a pair of putbacks from Obinna Ugwuakazi (11 points, 10 rebounds) and a triple from Rue and trailed just 19-17 after one.
“If we could have started that way instead of going down….we talked about using the emotion but not getting swamped by it,” Gallivan said. “We left a lot out there, we got some decent looks and we tried to do some things we’re not capable of doing. To [Archbishop Williams’] credit, they knocked some shots down.”
A three from sophomore Brett Pendenza and a midrange jumper from Ahmad Jahed helped Stoughton jump in front, a lead they didn’t relinquish the rest of the way. Paquette had a traditional three point and Josh Cocchi hit a pair of three throws to give Stoughton a 31-26 lead at half.
Stoughton extended its lead by outscoring the Bishops 19-11 in the third quarter. Ugwuakazi had five of his points in the frame, Aldama scored a pair of buckets, Cocchi drained a triple wit just over a minute left in the third, and Kevin Dixon converted a putback at the to make it 50-37 heading into the fourth.
“I thought the middle third of the game, we were pretty good,” Gallivan said. “The beginning and the end were shaky but that could be a product of having so many new faces.”
Stoughton boys basketball (1-0) opens Hockomock League play on Tuesday with a trip to Oliver Ames for a 6:30 tipoff.