FOXBORO, Mass. – Foxboro (15-9) had trailed almost from the opening tip of Friday night’s Div. 2 Round of 32 game. The Warriors took a 4-3 lead but it would be their last of the night. Norwood grabbed control of the game in the first quarter and with less than 10 seconds remaining went to the line with a chance to make it a two-possession game.
The Warriors had battled all night and had cut an eight-point deficit down to two. When the front-end of the one-and-one clanged off the rim, it looked like the hosts would have a last chance to keep their season alive. Instead, Norwood senior Noah Beaudet snuck between a pair of Foxboro players to snatch the rebound.
Beaudet sunk both free throws, giving him a game-high 30 points and ending Foxboro’s comeback attempt. Norwood, the defending Div. 2 runners-up, knocked off the Warriors 60-58 and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.
“We just weren’t able to come up with the key stop when we needed it,” Foxboro coach Jon Gibbs explained. Give a ton of credit to Norwood. They made huge plays down the stretch when they had to. Noah Beaudet is one of the best players in the state, certainly one of the best players we’ve seen all year and time and time again he made huge plays for them.”
That final, game-winning, play by Beaudet was just one of many examples of Norwood finding a way to prevent Foxboro from grabbing back the lead in front of a packed gym that was waiting to explode into life.
Beaudet got the Mustangs off to a strong start on the offensive end, knocking down four pull-up jumpers and scoring eight points in the first. He then drew extra defenders, which opened up good looks for Matty Mahoney (14 points) and Dylan Hamway (eight points), who combined for 10 in the opening quarter.
Foxboro struggled to get into a rhythm on the other end of the floor. Ryan Cotter (seven points and seven rebounds) scored from the opening tip and had a nice finish on a drive, but the other eight points in the first all came from senior Alex Penders. Fresh off reaching the 1,000-point mark for his career, Penders battled underneath with a series of tough finishes to try and keep Foxboro close.
Gibbs said, “Unfortunately, we didn’t finish plays as well as we wanted to tonight. We though we had some good looks that just didn’t go in. Sometimes basketball is that way. On those nights, you try to carry the game with your defense and get some offensive rebounds but in the end we couldn’t do enough.”
Norwood ended the first on a 5-0 run and added the first five points of the second too and went up by 11. Sinking back into a zone, the Mustangs were forcing the Warriors to try and hit shots from the perimeter. Ryan Kelley (12 points) took a skip pass from Nolan Gordon and knocked down the first three for the hosts. Kelley then added a baseline drive, plus the foul, to cut the lead down to just five.
Cotter followed with a drive of his own and it looked like Foxboro was climbing back into it, but Mahoney responded with an and-one on the other end. After Ryan LeClair’s steal and layup made it a four-point game, Hamway kept a possession alive by saving an offensive rebound right in front of the Foxboro bench and Beaudet scored with 6.4 on the clock.
Down seven in the third, Sam Golub grabbed an offensive board for a put-back, but Beaudet answered with a jumper. Kelley also got a put-back that made it 39-36 and, after a couple of Norwood free throws, Penders took a defensive rebound coast-to-coast for two. Again, momentum was building for the hosts, but Beaudet drilled a big three and hit two at the line.
Kelley knocked down his second three of the night, but Manny Llongo avoided a charge call for a layup that made it 48-41 heading to the fourth.
With the season on the brink, Foxboro turned to its star player. Penders (22 points and 12 rebounds), who played all 32 minutes, finished at the rim after grabbing three offensive boards.
“Obviously, he does so much for us at both ends of the floor,” Gibbs said of Penders. “His leadership is incredible. He’s been our anchor this whole season and he certainly left it all out there on the court again tonight and he’s an incredible player and incredible kid.
Golub had a rough night from the floor, but the senior came through in the fourth, scoring eight of his 12 points. He drained a three that cut the Norwood lead down to 50-47. Beaudet answered the call yet again, driving baseline for a layup. Penders would score in the post to keep Foxboro within three with 3:35 to play and Golub sank a pair at the line to cut the lead to just one.
This time it was Mahoney who hit the big pull-up jumper for the Mustangs and then Beaudet snuck in to grab an offensive rebound and scored to make it 56-51. After a Golub free throw, Penders bullied his way to the basket again, scoring with 50.3 on the clock to make it 56-54.
Beaudet was fouled and made both shots to extend the lead back to four with 26 seconds to go. Foxboro took its time offensively, working the ball around and Golub came up with another huge shot, nailing a pull-up with 9.6 left.
There was still hope for the hosts, until Beaudet hustled to make one last decisive play that kept Norwood alive for at least another round.
“To the credit of our guys, they never panicked,” Gibbs said. “They knew that if we stayed true to our plan and tried to execute as best as we could that we could climb back in it and I’m really proud of them for never giving up. That’s who we are.”