While it was a victory for Taunton to just get on the court after weeks of delays, the Tigers were in search of a different kind of win.
Buoyed by a hot start offensively and solid defense throughout, the Tigers won their season opener, 55-46, giving head coach Charlie Dacey his 400th career win — all coming with Taunton.
“I thought our defense was pretty good,” Dacey said. “That’s a lot of motion, you can’t duplicate what they do in practice. If they were hitting their shots we would have been in trouble because they had some decent looks.
“We were hitting the threes [early] which certainly helps. Then we kind of insisted on shooting them as the game went on, which drives me crazy.”
Dacey coached at the sub-varsity level for over a decade, including seven years at Taunton, before taking over for the 1989-1990 season.
“It’s always a matter of longevity,” Dacey said of his milestone win. “We’ve got a little bit of a culture here in Taunton and there’s an expectation here. But it’s the kids, it’s true, it’s all about the kids. You don’t get this many wins without having some good, coachable kids and this is the most coachable group I’ve had in a while.”
The Tigers didn’t show much rust at the start of the game, shooting just under 50% from the floor and connecting from three-point range four times. The pace was frantic from the start, with the teams combining for over 50 possessions in the first eight minutes.
Junior Faisal Mass (13 points, six rebounds) converted a pass from Trent Santos (10 points, four rebounds) on the opening possession and the Tigers were off and running. Tyler Stewart (11 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks) scored down low, Josh Lopes (11 points, four rebounds) scored five straight surrounded by a pair of Franklin turnovers, and Santos sank a three as Taunton jumped out to a 12-5 lead just over three minutes in.
Santos hit his second trifecta of the period, Stewart hit two from the line after being fouled, and Lopes capped the quarter with his second three-pointer to give Taunton a 20-11 lead after one.
That momentum continued into the second as senior Danny MacDougall came off the bench to give the Tigers an early boost. After a free throw and a Franklin turnover, MacDougall knocked down a corner three. Taunton’s defense kept the hosts off the board for almost three minutes to start the second.
After a little lull, Mass sank a corner three and Nigel Choate came up with a steal, the Tigers eventually getting a three-pointer from Tristan Herry to make it 30-15 just past the midway point of the second. Lopes scored at the rim, Stewart cleaned up a miss with a putback, and Herry made a late layup for a 36-20 halftime lead.
“I think the start of the game was, unfortunately, the difference right off the bat,” said Franklin head coach CJ Neely. “It felt like they got all 20 points in the first five minutes. It’s a big hole to dig against a really good team. It was a game we could have easily lost by 30 but credit to our guys for sticking with it. I thought defensively we did a really good job but scoring 46 points isn’t going to get it done.
“Just too many turnovers throughout the game really hurt us. Credit them for their defensive pressure, they had some blocked shots early so we were a little tentative taking it to the rim at times.”
To no one’s surprise, Franklin didn’t lay down and slowly crawled its way back into the contest. Even though Mass hit a three to open the second half to give the Tigers a 19-point lead, it would be the last triple for the visitors. And the Panthers held Taunton to just six points the rest of the third.
Freshman Henry Digiorgio connected from downtown early in the frame andAndrew Byfield (from Zach Harvey) added another triple as the Panthers stayed within striking distance. Despite limiting Taunton to just nine points in the quarter, Franklin entered the fourth quarter staring at a 45-30 deficit.
Taunton’s offense continued to sputter against Franklin’s aggressive defense. Not only were the Panthers doing a good job taking away open looks on the three-point line, Franklin put plenty of attention on Stewart, who dominated the paint all of last season.
Missed free throws and turnovers plagued both teams for the first four minutes of the final period, so when Santos finished off a fast break transition basket to make it 49-35 with 4:33 to go, Taunton’s lead looked safe.
But Byfield (nine points, six rebounds, two blocks) crashed the offensive boards for two, Jake O’Brien (17 points) drove the lane and hit a floater, and Declan Walmsley (nine points, eight rebounds) went coast-to-coast for two and suddenly it was just 49-41 with 2:27 to play.
“I don’t think fatigue was the issue but it was like, what’s going on?…we just lost our mojo [in the second half],” Dacey said. “The difference in games played matters. This is the first time we’ve been at game speed, and it certainly showed in places.”
Taunton turned it over coming out of a timeout and Walmsley found Byfield for two. The Tigers had three chances at stopping the run but couldn’t find the bottom of the net. Franklin’s three-point attempt was off with under a minute to go and Stewart hit one free throw after grabbing the defensive rebound.
Two more from Mass pushed it to 52-43 but a corner three from Alex Newman brought it back to a six-point game. Taunton made enough from the line down the stretch to hold on.
“They have three or four guys that can easily be a league all star so it’s kind of like pick your poison, trying to figure out which guy you want to stop,” Neely said. “We saw it last year, you stop one and another one gets going. They are a great team, I feel bad they don’t have a state tournament to play in because that’s one of the best teams around.”
Taunton (1-0) will host Franklin (4-1) in a rematch on Saturday morning at 11:00 AM.