TAUNTON, Mass. – When Taunton senior guard John Martins needed his teammates to pick him up, they were there. And in the most crucial time of the game, when his teammates needed him, Martin delivered.
The senior scored five of his nine points, and five of the Tigers’ nine points in overtime, including three clutch free throws inside the 30 seconds to help 14th-seeded Taunton earn a 62-57 win over rival and 11th-seed Bridgewater-Raynham.
“I had a rough night, I couldn’t really find a rhythm,” Martins said. “But the guys stuck with me, they kept fighting, and they kept pushing and motivating me. I couldn’t find a better group of guys to go out here with.
“I like those situations. I like shooting free throws, in practice and in games. It helps get me in a rhythm, And when I’m not in one, just get to the line.”
The two rivals went head-to-head for the first time since 2012 when they were both apart of the Old Colony League. Taunton joined the Hockomock League in the fall of 2012, and the two schools had only played once — softball in 2013 — since then, but the rivalry picked up where it left off.
“It’s about survival at this time of year,” said longtime Taunton head coach Charlie Dacey, who went head-to-head with former player and assistant Doug Alves, the coach of the Trojans, for the first time. “It’s not going to be pretty at times but it’s about who comes out on top.
“It was like the old days, a little bit like a street fight. It’s not exactly classic basketball but its two teams going after it. They have their strengths, we have ours, and in the end, we made one or two more plays. In a game like this you just wait for the break and fortunately, we were the ones who got it.”
Taunton had a chance to pull away when it pushed the lead to nine, 44-35, early in the fourth quarter but the Trojans hung around. The lead was 47-40 with five minutes to play but an 8-2 burst from the Trojans made it a one-point game with just under three minutes left.
Junior Dante Law (14 points, four rebounds, four assists), who missed nearly the entire first half with an ankle injury suffered with five minutes left in the first half, converted a pull up to put Taunton ahead 51-48. A free throw and then a putback from B-R’s Ryan Rubenskas tied the game with a minute to go.
Martins hit two free throws to put Taunton up and the Tigers got the initial stop on defense, but an offensive rebound and score from Karl Aikiens knotted the score. Taunton was whistled for a carry on the ensuing trip up the court, giving B-R a chance to win it with 12 seconds to go.
But Law provided good defense and B-R’s Jack Armstrong slipped and had to force a contested three that was off the mark, and the putback from Connor Rubenskas was after the buzzer, sending the game to overtime.
Taunton scored on the opening possession of the extra period, and never trialed. Mike Quinn (13 points, five rebounds) found Naz Kenion (nine points) cutting to the basket for two. The Trojans tied it, but Kenion found Law in the post and his turnaround baseline jumper put the Tigers back up, 57-55 with under two minutes to play.
The Tigers forced a turnover and capitalized, as Martins sank a 10-foot pull up in the paint to make it 59-55, a lead that was as important mentally as on the scoreboard for Taunton.
“Going up can just physiologically deflate a team,” Dacey said. “Now they’re going against the clock and they’re behind so it was big for us to go up early. And then if I could hand pick one guy to go to the foul line, it’s John, and fortunately, that’s who ended up there.
“The kids are pulling together late in the year. We’ve had ups and downs but all of a sudden, we’re gelling. They’re respecting one another, they are playing together, they’re playing hard for each other. Defensively we’re getting better. It’s an odd time to gel at this point but its better late than never.”
B-R missed a three giving the Tigers a chance to extend the lead but a corner three rimmed out. The Trojans missed on three chances up the court next time, the last a blocked three by Quinn and Taunton took possession back. Taunton beat the press, but Jadyn Rosario (18 points) came from behind to steal the ball and then sank two free throws to make it 59-57.
Martins was fouled and went to the line and calmly sank both chances, making it a two possession game with 28 seconds left. B-R was off again on another three and Martins connected on another free throw in the final seconds to secure the win.
While it was a bright finish for the Tigers, it was quite the opposite to start the game. Not only was Taunton limited to just one field goal in the first quarter (1-for-11 shooting), Law went down with an ankle injury with five minutes left and did not return for the rest of the second half.
Trailing 9-3 to start the second quarter, the Tigers turned to Quinn, and the senior captain gave his team life. Quinn buried a three off an offensive rebound from Wesner Charles (nine points, 13 rebounds) and classmate Lou Vendrell followed with a steal and assist to Charles for two to get within one.
“We know Dante is huge for us, but we needed guys to step up,” Martins said. “All the guys out there, pushing each other, and knowing we all need to take of business ourselves.”
Quinn went on to add eight more points in the quarter, including two three-pointers, sophomore Josh Lopes came off the bench and hit a pair of shots, including a putback on an offensive rebound, and Charles scored off a feed from Martin to give Taunton a 22-21 lead at half.
“To their credit, they didn’t get deflated and kept fighting,” Dacey said.”They could have really got down but they fought their way out of it. I’m not surprised Mike had 11 points that quarter, he plays on emotion, he plays so hard. It’s so much hustle.”
Law did return to begin the second half, making his presence known with a big block a minute in. Six Tigers scored in the third quarter, with Danny MacDougall, Quinn, and Martins each scoring two and Kenion dropping seven of his nine points. Kenion converted a three-point play and Law followed with a three-pointer to make it 38-32.
B-R got within three but once again Law drained a triple and Vendrell scored on a fast break to give Taunton a 43-35 lead heading into the fourth.
“It’s a nice competitive situation, two close communities, the kids respect one another,” Dacey said. “This one took place in the tournament, maybe regular season down the road. I like Doug, I like his players, a nice competitive game like that is good for the kids.”
Taunton boys basketball (15-8) will face off with another familiar foe in the D1 South Semifinal as they will host league rival #2 Mansfield (21-4) on Sunday at 4:00. Taunton was a predetermined site for the D1 South semifinal before the tournament started.
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