HANOVER, Mass. – After a back-and-forth competitive first half that featured seven lead changes and a pair of ties, it was only a matter of time until one team put together a game-changing run over the final two quarters.
#18 Oliver Ames wasn’t going to wait around and let #15 Hanover hit first.
The Tigers, trailing by one at the halftime break, opened the second half with a 15-2 burst over the first five minutes of the third quarter to create a double-digit advantage and Oliver Ames never looked back, earning a 62-51 win on the road in a D2 South Preliminary Round matchup.
Oliver Ames’ largest lead of the opening half was five, accomplished midway through the second quarter when senior Ryan Sullivan came off the bench and drained a three for a 20-15 lead. But true to how the rest of the first half went, the Indians crawled back into it and scored the final four points of the half to seize a 24-23 lead at the break.
Due to foul trouble, OA’s starting five didn’t play many minutes together in the second with junior Amari Brown (15 points, four rebounds, three assists) holding two fouls. But in the second half, the Tigers had its top lineup available and ramped up the defensive effort to start the third.
“We had all of our weapons to start the second half and I thought we did a really good job on the defensive end,” said Oliver Ames head coach Don Byron. “The [Patrick] Damon kid is an exceptional player, a 1,000-point player with a tremendous career and throughout that entire game, I thought Owen [Friel] was unbelievable just manning him up. We schemed a couple of things on their ball screens that I thought we did well.
“I think we played it somewhat conservative in the first half, we protected Amari [Brown] (foul trouble), who is probably our best on the ball defender arguably, though Friel does a good job of it too. Losing one of those two for a good chunk of time… we survived it okay, and we were happy down just one at that point.”
Oliver Ames senior Ryan Burkett (19 points, 10 rebounds) opened the second half with a traditional three-point play that gave the visitors the lead for good. Defensively, the Tigers drew an offensive foul, and both Burkett and Brown had back-to-back steals, the latter taking the turnover the length of the court for a bucket plus the harm. The free throw put OA u 29-24.
Hanover’s Jack Fleming hit a pair of free throws but OA senior Jay Spillane (six points, six assists, four rebounds) splashed a three in response, and after back-to-back stops defensively, Burkett took down a defensive board on one end and converted at the rim, forcing a Hanover timeout at 34-26.
The break didn’t stop the bleeding though as Burkett stood in to draw a charge out of the timeout, and then cleaned up a miss with a putback. Burkett came up with another steal and went in uncontested for two more as the Tigers capped a 15-2 surge out of the halftime break.
“You never really know how they are going to react when the bright lights come on,” Byron said. You get a sense for it, we had a good practice yesterday but you never really know. We came out and hit them first in the second half.
“We rebounded well and we had a couple of shots fall. We hit them with that first blast early in the first half that I think set them back a little bit. And from there on, I thought we were pretty efficient.”
Junior Solomon Fife gave OA a boost off the bench with some strong minutes defensively down low and added a free throw and a bucket in the post to help the Tigers take a 41-29 lead into the final frame.
Fleming scored early and Damon drained a deep three early in the fourth to get the Indians within single digits, 42-34, but yet another Tiger stepped up to answer the call. Senior Evan Craig (11 points) hit a baseline jumper on a feed from Friel for his second straight basket and then scored off an offensive rebound one possession after Burkett converted at the rim.
Friel then knocked the ball free and went in alone for a layup to give OA a 50-34 edge, the Tigers’ largest lead of the night, with 4:37 to play.
“That’s huge, just to be able to capable of having a third or fourth guy that can score, that need to be guarded,” Byron said. “If someone comes and tries to take one guy away, there’s another guy out there capable for us. Teams don’t have that every year, but we have some kids that can make baskets. Burkett came out very strong from the beginning, Craig had that baseline spot up and a couple of finishes off penetration.”
Hanover applied a full-court press to try and get back into it but the Tigers were able to navigate past it, and then hit their free throws down the stretch to ice the win.
Oliver Ames boys basketball (12-11) advances to the D2 South First Round to take on #2 Westwood (20-2) on Thursday at 6:30.