WESTFORD, Mass. -- Friday had all the characteristics of a usual Westford vs Acton-Boxborough matchup.
A packed house? Check. Students chanting at each other from across the gym after nearly every possession in the second half? Check.
A game that came to the wire? Check. But this time, it was No. 21 Westford that came away with the win, knocking off the No. 6 Colonials, 68-60.
Everything started about as bad as it possibly could for A-B (7-1), while everything went well for Westford. The Grey Ghosts (8-2) had a 17-7 lead at the end of the first quarter due to its near-perfect perimeter shooting.
Matt Ellis was a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc in the quarter, and added another before the first half was over. He finished the game with 15 points and 6 rebounds.
Conversely, nothing seemed to be able to fall for A-B. Kevin LaFrancis, the team’s 6-foot-6 center, accounted for all seven of the team’s points in the first quarter.
The second quarter went as smoothly as the first for Westford, which extended its lead to 36-16. LaFrancis scored 14 of those 16 points.
“I thought the first half was the key to the game,” said Westford head coach Ed Scollan. “We came out with an intensity we hadn’t really shown for a full 16 minutes and I thought that worked well. I thought we shot the ball well and everything just seemed to click for those 16 minutes.”
As often as is the case in basketball, it is difficult to carry shooting success over to the next half. Most of the time, the shots that were finding the bottom of the net start hitting the back of the rim. Those bounces that went your way in one half suddenly don’t.
That was the case Friday, when the Colonials outscored Westford 21-11 to make it a 10-point game going into the fourth, with momentum on its side. Suddenly, what once seemed out of reach became a game again.
“We weren’t going to sit down at halftime, that’s for sure, not with the talent they have,” said Scollan. “They certainly came back in the second half and gave us a run for it. Our concern coming out of the locker room was that team of Acton-Boxborough’s quality and capability would make a run at it.”
A-B saw an increase in its second-chance opportunities, most of which were put away by the dominating inside presence of LaFrancis. The big man finished with 28 points and seven rebounds.
With 2:53 left in the game, A-B had cut the lead down to 57-53. The 4-point lead was the closest the game had been since the first quarter. Westford would not let the lead go however. After Justin Mount (12 points, five rebounds) converted a 3-point play to make it a seven-point game, A-B was forced to foul.
Ellis and Alex Preckol (19 points, four rebounds) made the necessary free throws down the stretch to secure the victory and sent the home crowd home happy.
Halftime pep talks: What does a coach tell his team at halftime when it is up by 20, can’t miss, and showed no signs of slowing down?
“I told them that we probably can’t continue to shoot as high percentage-wise as we did,” said Scollan. “We can continue the intensity, but any team like Acton-Boxborough is not going to sit back with Coach Kilpatrick, Joey Flannery (18 points, three rebounds), and Kevin LaFrancis and say this game is over. It’s not going to happen. There’s just too much pride. I told them to be ready for it. Be ready for the run.”
How about a coach that is down 20 points?
“We’re not in there yelling and screaming,” said A-B coach Rick Kilpatrick. “We just said listen, ‘We want to pick up the defensive pressure a little bit and just try to move more off the ball and try to get better looks. Basketball is a game of runs. We’re a good team. We were going to make a run at some point. There was no panic at halftime, it was just a question of working hard. We just had to stick by what we do and hopefully make a run and get there and we just came up a little short.”
Limiting LaFrancis: Westford’s defense of LaFrancis was impressive in the first half, given that he had at least a 3-inch height advantage over the Westford defenders. He had a difficult time getting clean looks in the post because there would always be someone there to knock away or get a hand on the entry pass.
He did most of his work in the post in the second half. Although he still ended the game with 28 points, 10 of those came at the foul line, evidence that even when he did get the ball down low, Westford made it physically tough for him.
“They were very tough around the basket, which we expected,” said Kilpatrick. “We talked about that that they would do that. They did a great, great job. I thought that as much as Kevin scored, I thought they did a great job defensively.”
Familiar Foes: This was the second of three times this season the two teams will play each other. The last time they played was over the holidays, and A-B came away with a 5-point victory. The rubber match is scheduled for February 10 at Acton-Boxborough.
With all the elements of the rivalry, the Dual County League Large ramifications of the game, and the schedule moving forward, Scollan was happy with the result.
“It was definitely pleasing to come back and win like that, knowing we play each other three times at least,” he said. “The bottom line is we needed this game. It may be as simple as that. If we aspire to continue, we needed this game.”