WORCESTER, Mass. — The stage keeps getting bigger and the Mansfield boys basketball team keeps delivering.
Junior Eddie McCoy poured in a game-high 28 points as he continued a terrific postseason run and the Hornets put together another defensive masterpiece to pass their latest test with flying colors, a convincing 65-45 win over #6 Nashoba in the state semifinals.
The win sets up #2 Mansfield with its biggest and final test of the season: a date with top-seeded Malden Catholic in the Division 2 State Championship.
“It speaks volumes about where we are at,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan. “We were saying at the end of the game, this is just how Mansfield does things. For years we’ve used that ‘next up’ mentality, and we have guys playing close to 30 minutes trying to fill the voids with two guys out. Defensively we were awesome all night and offensively we found our opportunities to be effective, took care of the basketball, and did everything I thought we needed to do to win the game. We kind of just kept grinding throughout games.”
McCoy has been a star for far in the playoffs and wasted little time providing a spark on the offensive end for the Hornets. He knocked down an early triple and scored nine points in the opening quarter as the Hornets built a 17-8 lead. He added seven more in the second quarter while senior JT Veiking (16 points, six rebounds, four blocks) had eight points by halftime to help secure a 29-22 lead at the break.
“Not having Trevor [Foley] and Davon [Sanders] hurts us but I’m proud of this group for how we’ve handled losing them and how we’ve kept going,” McCoy said. “I think with Trevor being out, I feel like I’ve had to step up and be more of ‘the guy’ kind of role. I’m feeling confident out there.
“Now we have one more.”
The Hornets only forced five turnovers in the first half but played tough on-ball defense and held the Wolves to under 28% shooting from the field, including just two points off nine offensive rebounds.
“I thought defensively we were the one team that could match up with them,” Vaughan said. “We don’t get a lot of credit for our size because we play a lot of perimeter basketball but JT is 6’7, Chris is 6’5, and Eddie is 6’3 or 6’4. I thought all of our matchups worked and I thought if we could rebound the ball, which they were really good at, and we did that really well early. We got better at that in the third quarter and that helped us get that separation.”
Mansfield really created separation in the third quarter as it limited the Wolves to just 10 points — holding Nashoba to just two offensive boards while coming up with three forced turnovers.
Meanwhile, the Hornets’ offense just continued to break down Nashoba’s defense, both its man-to-man and 3-2 zone. Multiple passes, constant movement off the ball, backdoor cuts, and effective shooting — all key traits to Mansfield’s offense — kept Nashoba guessing.
Senior Chris Hill (10 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals) asserted himself right away, taking the first three shots of the half (after just two in the first half) and making back-to-back layups. Nashoba answered with two buckets of its own, but over the final four minutes of the quarter. Mansfield outscored the Wolves 16-6 to create its largest lead of the game.
Veiking had a traditional three-point play to start the run, and McCoy had consecutive strong takes to the rim before sinking a pair of free throws. Junior Brandon Jackman hooked up with Hill (who had eight of his 10 points in the quarter) and then Hill set up Veiking for a triple. A late layup from Hill capped the run and Mansfield staked a 49-32 lead going into the fourth.
“When we came out of the locker room, you make eye contact with a senior [Hill] that’s played with you so long…sometimes you don’t have to say anything, they just know,” Vaughan said of Hill’s big third period. “We needed a second or a third guy, we knew they’d try to take some stuff away with Eddie and that’s when Chris asserted himself which I thought were three critical possessions coming out of the half.”
McCoy hit three free throws in the first couple of minutes of the fourth and Caden Colby (five points, three rebounds) added two of his own from the line. McCoy read a Nashoba pass perfectly, picked it off, and went in for the layup as Mansfield’s lead inflated to 56-38 with just under five minutes to go.
“Newton North coach Paul Connolly once said to me about the playoffs that you need a couple of things: you need to get lucky, have talent, and then you need a guy that comes out and plays at a different level,” Vaughan said. “Eddie’s been showing little glimpses all year but he’s taking over games and doing it in the flow. He’s not forcing action, he’s not trying to do it all, he’s allowing his teammates to contribute. He’s stepped in and made big plays over and over the last couple of weeks.”
Nashoba had five straight points to get the deficit down to 16 points (56-40) but that would be the closest they’d get the rest of the way. Sophomore Nate Creedon had success at the line to keep the Hornets ahead, Veiking tacked on one final bucket, and freshman Gabe McIntyre capped the scoring with a free throw.
Mansfield boys basketball (25-2) will finish its season against the top-seeded Lancers of Malden Catholic (22-2), who is looking for its second straight state title. The game is currently scheduled for Friday at 5:30 at the Tsongas Center in Lowell.