MANSFIELD, Mass. – The game seemed over in the third quarter. Mansfield had found another gear defensively and used an 18-0 run either side of halftime to take control against BC High in Tuesday night’s Div. 1 South first round game in the Albertini Gym.
It is not often that the Hornets let what grew to as much as a 18-point lead slip, but the Eagles are not a typical No.15 seed and they came storming back. The lead was down to single digits by the end of the third quarter and only four points early in the fourth.
Each time, Mansfield found a response to keep the Eagles at bay, but with only a 1:34 left the lead was just five, and with 34.8 on the clock it was down to just two. While the Hornets are the defending state champions and come into the tournament as the No. 2 seed, there is still a learning curve for a number of players who are seeing their first significant tournament action.
As it turned out, the Hornets had just enough to get the win. Tommy Dooling got into the lane and dropped a pass off to T.J. Guy for the layup with just seconds left that put Mansfield back up four and that was how it would finish, a 57-53 win that could also serve a message about having to finish off an opponent when on top.
“They’re more like a 14-6, second round, opponent,” said Mansfield coach Mike Vaughan. “Hopefully this game will help us and make these guys understand the value of, in the state tournament a 12-point lead can be gone in under a minute and you need to stay committed to doing the right thing. When we do the right thing, we’re tough to beat.”
When these two teams met back in December, Mansfield won by 22 points, but the Eagles were without 6-foot-8 junior center Ozzy Trapilo. The Eagles were without him for large portions of the first half on Tuesday as well because the Hornets went right at the big man from the start and got him into early foul trouble (three fouls in the opening five minutes).
“We didn’t really have a game plan to go at him,” said Vaughan, who admitted that Mansfield may have benefited from some calls early. “We really wanted to neutralize him in terms of giving Sam [Stevens] the opportunity to get shots because he had to come out and play him and then get T.J. screening and moving.”
Guy (14 points) took the ball into the body of the BC High center and earned a three-point play for Mansfield’s first basket. Sam Stevens (11 points) added a three-point play on an offensive rebound and Dooling (13 points) twice got to the rim, but the Hornets allowed eight points to Noah Rothhaar and were tied 12-12 after one.
The game stayed tight in the second and the Eagles took a 20-19 lead following a jumper by Kevin Keenan. BC High wouldn’t score again until midway through the third quarter. Mansfield closed the half on an 8-0 run. Stevens put the Hornets back in front with layup off a Damani Scott assist, Dooling drilled a three off a Matty Boen assist, and then Scott got to the rim on a drive to make it 27-20 at the break.
Mansfield kept its foot on the gas in the third quarter. Scott (game-high 15 points) got the crowd fired up with a steal and two-hand slam and that was followed by Guy picking off a pass and finishing with the first dunk of his career. After a pull-up three by Boen, it was suddenly 40-22 and the game was on the verge of getting out of hand.
It was on the verge but the Eagles made sure that it never fully got away. BC High answered Mansfield’s 21-2 run with a 14-3 run of its own, capped by Mike Loughnane’s third three of the night, and the Eagles got the lead back down to just seven.
“I thought the biggest momentum swing for and against us was T.J.’s dunk,” Vaughan explained, “because it excited the crowd, the place was rocking, it was awesome. We come down three straight possessions and it was like, let me do that now. Stay focused on what we do.”
He added, “It’s just a commitment to playing the team game. When we play the team game, we’re very difficult to defend because we have five guys who can play. When we start trying to go one-on-one, then we’re easy to defend.”
The lead was nine heading to the fourth, but a floater by Gavin Larnard and then a three-point play by Keenan had the Eagles down just four points and the visiting bench fired up. Stevens, who had been quiet for most of the game, sprung into action and drilled back-to-back threes to extend the advantage back to 10.
Larnard came right back with a three of his own, but Scott got an open look at a jumper off a Guy feed. A pair of free throws and a layup for Loughnane, off a steal by Korey Reynolds, got the Eagles to within five at 53-48. The home crowd was starting to get a little antsy.
Dooling drained a pull-up jumper to calm the nerves temporarily, but Keenan hit a turn-around baby hook from the left block and then Reynolds got free on the left wing for a clean look at a three and with only 34.8 remaining Mansfield got the ball over half and called timeout.
BC High elected to play the defensive possession out rather than foul and Dooling managed to get into the lane as the shot clock was winding down, drew the defense, and laid off a pass to Guy, who was able to get the ball up over the rim for the basket that sealed the win.
Mansfield (19-4) will host 10th seed Xaverian, which beat Needham, in the D1 South quarterfinal on Friday night.