A team with minimal experience at the varsity level matured plenty from when they first tipped off in December, but the postseason is a completely different animal, especially for a young team.
Those jitters were apparent as the 10th-seeded Tigers were whistled for traveling on their first three possessions on the road at #10 Marshfield.
But junior Tyler Stewart (23 points, 20 rebounds) cleaned up an offensive rebound for two and sophomore Trent Santos (11 points, five rebounds) drained a three, and just like that, all was right with Taunton.
Those buckets sparked a 10-0 spurt in the first quarter and Taunton dominated the third quarter to the tune of 21-4 to help the Tigers pin down a 64-44 upset of the Rams.
“We had tournament jitters for sure, I get that and kind of expected that,” Dacey said. “Defensively, [the third quarter] was excellent. Josh [Lopes] was leading the charge for us. He was on [Mike] Walsh, he’s their player, and josh did a nice job disrupting him all night long. That was the key because he’s there go-to guy and Josh did a nice job on him.”
Santos sank a second three and Stewart added another putback as Taunton quickly put the nerves in the backseat, taking a 10-4 lead just past the halfway mark of the first.
And then it was a three from junior Nigel Choate (seven points) off the bench, a triple from Lopes (13 points, four rebounds, three assists), and a spot up, contested three from straightaway from sophomore Faisal Mass (seven points) to beat the buzzer capped a 10-3 over the final 1:28 of the first to put Taunton ahead 20-8 after a quarter.
The Rams cut the deficit to seven when Trey O’Connor hit from deep and Evan Mallios converted an offensive rebound but Lopes answered for Taunton and Stewart went to work down low with four straight points. Mass added four more and the Tigers had a 31-22 lead at halftime.
Lopes opened the third with a three and Stewart converted off a feed from Danny MacDougall (five rebounds, three assists) to give the Tigers a good start on the offensive end. But the story was the Tigers’ defense, holding the hosts without a point for nearly four minutes.
The Rams went 0-for-2 from three-point – both contested well – and had a harder time attacking the basket with Stewart in the way. Both Lopes and Santos had steals in that span as well.
When Walsh, the Rams’ top offensive option, finally got his first shot off of the first half, MacDougall got a piece of it from behind. It wasn’t until O’Connor capitalized on a Tiger turnover that the Rams got on the board with 4:25 left in the third.
“It all started with the defense for us,” Stewart said, who also had three blocks. “We really tried to limit their three-point shots, close out hard, and make someone other than Walsh beat us. We focused a lot on him, we wanted to keep the ball out of his hands.
“We talked in the locker room and really emphasized our defense, we talked a lot about closing out on their shots and getting the rebounds. And then that defense led to offense for us.”
Taunton finished the quarter strong, closing on a 16-2 run after the Rams got on the board. Stewart cleaned up his own miss, Santos drilled a shot after a steal, and then Stewart showed some range with an elbow jumper.
Stewart hit two at the line then fought for an offensive rebound, feeding Choate for an easy two plus the foul. MacDougall had another block and linked up with Stewart again, and then Lopes pickpocketed a Ram and went in for a layup while being fouled, completing the three-point play in the final seconds of the quarter to seize a 52-26 lead.
Through three quarters, Lopes and the Tigers limited Walsh to 1-for-10 shooting, the lone make being a three in the final minute of the first.
“Tyler should be getting a touch every time down the floor, no matter what they are doing defensively, no matter how we are shooting good or bad…he can make things happen,” Dacey said. “He had the size [advantage] and he’s got some athleticism, he’s not a stiff down there. He can create once he gets the ball in the right place, and if they send a double at him he knows what to do and it’s helped discourage teams from doubling.
“Josh stepped up [on the offensive end] too, and Trent made some threes for us. Nigel had a big three for us too. When we settle down, we’re fine but a typical young team, we have our moments.”
The Tigers spent the majority of the fourth running the shot clock down before getting a look. Stewart added four more, Santos had three, Lopes and MacDougall two each, and sophomore Tristan Herry, who battled foul trouble in the first half, had a free throw.
Taunton boys basketball (15-5) will take a ride up Route 24 on Friday to take on #2 Brockton (16-4) at 6:30.