WESTWOOD, Mass. – While there are plenty of different coaching philosophies in the game of basketball, you can essentially split coaches into two groups: those who foul up by three late in the game, and those who don’t.
You can count Sharon’s Andrew Ferguson among the former group.
Right after Sharon senior Aaron Strong (career-high 19 points) sank two free throws to make it 61-58 with 5.2 seconds left, the Eagles fouled, sending Walpole to the line to shoot two with 3.3 to go.
The strategy worked out, as the first free throw was off, forcing the Rebels to purposely miss the second. A loose ball ended up with a jump ball with 0.3 left, and Walpole’s last-second desperation three was off the side of the backboard, giving the Eagles their first win of the season.
“We were very worried of Matt Falvey getting open and hitting a three,” Ferguson said. “We wanted to put them on the line, and then if he missed it, have to make that decision to miss the second. Nick Stamm knew exactly what we wanted to do right away, he did such a great job in the fourth quarter on [Falvey]. We felt fouling was the best strategy for us in that spot. With under 10 seconds left, didn’t want to get caught on a switch on a screen and it ended up working out.”
Ferguson’s concern about Falvey was beyond warranted as the senior guard scored a game-high 29 points, keeping the Rebels within striking distance until their fourth-quarter push that nearly stole the game.
Sharon had a 12-point lead at halftime and entered the final quarter with a 51-42 advantage and control of the game. The Eagles had an answer for Walpole’s early push as Caleb Gayle (eight points, seven rebounds) had back-to-back baskets and Stamm drove to the hoop to put Sharon ahead 57-46 with just under six minutes to go.
Walpole refused to go quietly, hitting a three after Sharon missed a pair of free throws. The Rebels got a turnover on the ensuing inbounds and converted a three-point play to make it 57-52.
After an empty trip, Falvey scored his lone two points on the final quarter with a nice take to the basket.
“That was Nick Stamm’s job, I told him ‘Don’t let him breath’ in the fourth quarter,’” Ferguson said. “Nick knows what his role is and he’s embraced it. He really stepped up to help us in the fourth.”
Sharon had a chance to answer but missed two more free throws. After trading misses over the next two minutes, Walpole made it a one-point game on two free throws from Brian DiPasca (18 points).
Sharon once again failed at the free throw line but forced a turnover on the defensive end to keep the lead. Despite a missed three, Sharon got the offensive rebound and Strong hit one of two chances at the line to push the lead to 58-56 with 1:32 to play.
With 30 seconds to play, Walpole came out of a timeout with a play to try and get level. It looked like the play was going to work when Connor McDonough got free on a curl but Ben Kaplan made a terrific block from behind off the backboard and Strong grabbed the rebound.
“We thought we could pressure them a little bit,” Ferguson said of the defense early on. “They have a young point guard so we were very successful with Ben [Kaplan] and Aaron [Strong] at the top of that 22. But Falvey was really killing us so we switch to the box-and-one and we really shut him down in the fourth quarter. Other guys stepped and hit shots for them but I’m proud of the defensive effort from my guys tonight.”
Strong hit one of two from the line to push the lead to 59-58, but Walpole sophomore Jack Connell drove to the basket for two, cutting the lead to one again. Sharon was almost called for a 10-second violation in the backcourt but Ferguson called a timeout. Out of the timeout, Strong got the ball, was fouled, and hit two free throws to seal the win.
“I told Aaron that I trusted him, that I trusted he would make the free throws,” Ferguson said.
Sharon trailed twice in the early minutes of the game but went ahead 14-10 by the end of the first quarter and never relinquished the advantage.
The Eagles had their best stretch of the first half at the very end of the second quarter. Holding a 22-18 advantage, Sharon closed the first half with an 11-3 run.
Aidan Kane (18 points) drove to the rim for two, Gayle hit a mid-range jumper and Kaplan took it strong to the basket for a 29-19 lead. Strong had one of his six steals and converted an easy two and Kane drilled a three on a feed from Stamm just before the buzzer to make it 33-21.
Sharon’s lead expanded to as much as 15 when Strong converted a layup with five minutes to go in the third quarter, but Walpole rallied to get within seven with under two minutes left in the period. JuniorAlec Filipkowski drilled a three to push the lead back to double digits.
“They ramped up their defensive intensity, they were cutting off the lane really well and we just weren’t making our foul shots,” Ferguson said of what changed in the fourth quarter. “We got to the free throw line but just didn’t cash in there. We’re going to shoot a lot of foul shots tomorrow in practice. Mike [Masto] does a great job with Walpole and they really ramped up their defensive intensity. We have a young group experience wise so we will work on that in practice and get better.”
Sharon boys basketball (1-4) returns home for a Hockomock League game against Davenport division rival North Attleboro on Friday, January 4th at 6:30.