“You could have charged double and people still would have gotten their money’s worth.”
In front of a packed standing-room-only crowd inside James Albertini Gymnasium, the third meeting between the Hornets and Bombardiers proved to the best of the series. And in the end, it had the same result as the first two with top-seeded Mansfield clawing out a 54-52 win over Attleboro in a D1 South Quarterfinal clash.
How it played out, however, was far different from the two regular season meetings between Kelley-Rex foes. This go-around, Mansfield had to dig itself out of a 12-point hole in the second half, and after struggling from the free-throw line all game (11-for-26), sank clutch shots from the charity stripe in the final seconds and held their breath as a near full-court heave from the Bombarders just missed at the buzzer.
“Just play harder, play with a sense of urgency,” Vaughan said of the turnaround. “I talked with the two seniors Sammy [Stevens] and Drew [Rooney], told them they weren’t going to go out this way and to put it all on the line, leave it on the table and see what happens.”
What happened was a new aggressive approach from junior TJ Guy (11 points, seven rebounds), attacking the basket with a purpose. And while that set the table for the comeback, the space it created allowed junior Matt Boen (22 points, four rebounds, four assists) to carry the Hornets over the hump and into the lead.
Attleboro’s Nick McMahon (13 points, seven rebounds) hit a pair of free throws to give the visitors a 37-25 edge with 4:49 left in the third quarter, the first time the Bombarders pushed the advantage to 12 points. Guy sliced through the defense for two, was fouled after collecting his own rebound after getting to the basket again, and once again attacked the basket for a traditional three-point play.
“I thought TJ did a good job coming out in the third and being aggressive to the basket and that opened things up and guys had to make shots,” Vaughan said. “We needed multiple people in the room to fight and he took it to heart. And what I was proud of TJ about is when they started to adjust to what he was doing, he came down three straight possessions and distributed the ball, so we didn’t end up just watching him every time.”
Nonetheless, McMahon answered with a triple on the other end and Attleboro once again had a 12-point advantage, this time at 42-30 with 3:23 left to play.
After four straight takes from Guy, the Hornets found space on the perimeter and Boen sank a triple to get the run going. An Attleboro turnover resulted in another triple from Boen after a feed from Guy. A handful of empty possessions from both sides preceded yet another three from Boen with just 12 seconds left in the third and the Hornets cut the deficit to just 42-39 entering the fourth quarter.
“TJ is a special player for them and he’s got quick feet, he got to the rim a couple times in the third quarter,” said Attleboro head coach Mark Houle. “And that matchup favored them when TJ had the ball in those situations and he kind of took the game over. He’s a very good player, and once he gets his, we started to collapse a bit and then they start kicking it out and Boen went off. They have some terrific players and when they needed it, those guys stepped up.
“That kind of changed the flow of the game and it coincided with their defensive pressure too.”
Attleboro senior Bryant Ciccio (11 points, three assists) pushed the Bombarders’ lead to 44-39 to open the quarter but a 5-0 spurt from the Hornets — a free throw from Boen, two from Stevens at the line, and a steal from Brendan Foley that led to a bucket from Boen — tied things up with 5:52 to play. Both Foley and junior Jack Colby gave the Hornets strong minutes defensively in the fourth quarter.
“I thought Matty was awesome in the third quarter and we needed someone to step up and start playing,” Vaughan said. “I think Matty was kind of holding back [in the first half] for some reason, whether it was the atmosphere or the first playoff game where he’s ‘the man.’ It’s our first tournament game, some guys have more experience. I think he just needed a half to figure out how he could be effective and once the first one falls, he started to play with confidence.
The Bombarders missed on a pair of three-point chances before Rooney went up and under for two, only for Attleboro senior Qualeem Charles (10 points, nine rebounds) to answer on the other end.
“They forced some turnovers in the second half,” Houle said, the Bombardiers with eight turnovers after the halftime break. “I thought our rhythm on offense was pretty good early but they got us to turn the ball over and really pressured us. You get energy off of the defense and that’s what they did.
“We like to be in these grind it out games, I had a lot of confidence we would find a way to tie it up and get the win, but [Mansfield] has some terrific players too.
Stevens came up with a big block in the lane and Boen hit his sixth triple of the game to put the Hornets ahead with 3:29 to go. Attleboro once again was off the mark from three, and then had a possession in which they missed two more. Stevens deflected a pass that led to a steal from Boen, but Attleboro got the stop and McMahon hit a little runner in the lane to make it 49-48 with 1:16 to go.
Attleboro got the turnover it needed but came up just short on a baseline layup take. Stevens hit both from the line with 23.3 left for a 51-48 lead and Guy added another for a 52-48 advantage.
McMahon made two at the line to get within two before Stevens hit another for a 53-50 lead. McMahon kept the Bombarders in it with two more from the line before Boen pushed the lead to 54-52 with 3.7 seconds left. Attleboro’s heave at the buzzer was off the back of the rim.
“I’m certainly very proud of our guys and the effort we had tonight and throughout the season, especially our seniors and the amazing crowd we had tonight,” Houle said, with at least half of the crowd at Mansfield clad in Attleboro blue. “You see that many kids and that many fans there before a game, it really shows how much like this group and that made me proud. This has been a terrific group.”
Mansfield built a 15-13 edge after one quarter due to some strong shooting from the perimeter. Boen, Rooney, and freshman Chris Hill all hit from deep while Guy and Stevens had success down low. Attleboro kept pace by going to the hoop, as both Charles and Lorenzo Wilson had four points each.
The second quarter belonged to the Bombardiers, outscoring the hosts 14-2 in the frame to build a double-digit lead by halftime. The Hornets had four turnovers against a strong Attleboro defense and went 0-for-8 from the floor. Mansfield’s only points came at the line, although they missed six straight at one point.
On the flip side, Jason Weir hit his first of three made three-pointers and Ciccio went off his nine points in the quarter, including an impressive bucket to beat the buzzer where he split a pair of defenders and nailed a pull up jumper.
“I thought in the first quarter we were okay,” Vaughan said. “I think we were ahead as many as five and then we get to the second quarter and we scored two points. When’s the last time we scored just two points in a quarter? I think we just had to find our rhythm.”
Mansfield boys basketball (21-3) advances to the D1 South Semifinal against #4 Needham, who took down #5 Newton North 59-46. The Hornets and Rockets will tipoff at 3:30 on Sunday at Taunton High. Attleboro finishes the season at 17-7.