ACTON, Mass. -- Expressing the feeling of many coaches in the Division 1 North district, Acton-Boxborough head coach Rick Kilpatrick mused following the Colonials' game with Brighton tonight that his bracket is "extremely" wide open.
And in this season of unlikely contenders and wild upsets, Kilpatrick's squad had just made a case for why they should be considered contenders, not underdogs, in the North. Against a Brighton lineup superior in athleticism, speed and overall skill -- even with star forward Nick Simpson done for the season due to grades -- the Colonials wore them down with careful execution and clean movement around the halfcourt, giving way to another huge night for senior center Kevin LaFrancis (31 points, 15 rebounds) in a 59-45 win.
"We wanted to schedule this, because it's a type of team we don't see often in our league," LaFrancis said. "We definitely had to get back to basics, and really box out, because they are really athletic."
The Colonials (17-1) led 13-4 after one period, and extended their lead to 20-10 in the second quarter before the Bengals (16-2) stormed back with back-to-back-to-back three-pointers from Daivon Edwards (11 points), cutting the lead to one. A-B quickly regrouped, and down the stretch were able to pull away with timely execution and steady feeds to LaFrancis and Joey Flannery (15 points).
In the third quarter, for instance, the 6-foot-6 LaFrancis continued to take the ball inside, and took hard bump after hard bump to the tune of 12 free throw attempts for the stanza. He was 8-for-12 from the line in the third, and 11-for-16 overall from the stripe.
"On pace for 48 (free throw attempts)? No, I've never had a quarter like that," LaFrancis laughed of the third quarter. "It was tough, but you just have to stay with it. I was struggling with the free throws towards the end of the quarter, but I started to get my stroke back at the end, so it was good."
The Bengals pride themselves on dictating a frenetic tempo, but the Colonials took charge of the game's pace early and made it stick. On ball reversals, LaFrancis would often step out from underneath the hoop, catch and drive, taking advantage of some lapses in help defense.
At the other end, A-B settled into a 2-3 zone and held Brighton to just a 31 percent clip from the field, including 2-for-13 in the first quarter and 1-for-11 in the final frame.
All of it comes in the absence of Jake Pilecki. The star senior forward came down with a stomach bug, and did not dress.
"It's a positive for us, hopefully it's a confidence builder," Kilpatrick said. "Jake's really important to us, especially defensively. He's a good passer, he just does a lot of good things. We told the guys, when someone's missing, it's opportunities for other guys. I thought that other guys stepped it up and did a nice job tonight."
Breaking the press: One of the ways Brighton creates a hectic tempo is with its vaunted diamond-and-one press. Dressing just eight players tonight, head coach Hugh Coleman rolled out some different permutations of the press, but the Colonials were able to break it patiently, with clean diagonal passes from sideline to sideline.
"All we talked about yesterday, and before the game today, was catch before you dribble," Kilpatrick said. "If you don't look before you dribble, you're going to dribble into trouble. So just catch and try to pass through it, and we worked on that a lot in practice yesterday. I don't know what our turnover numbers were, but I don't think they were too bad."
Outnumbered, but not outdone: For the Bengals, times like these -- dressing just eight, missing key players -- call for players to step up and make a name for themselves. Tonight, that meant a more elevated role down low for senior forward Jerard Mayes, who matched up with LaFrancis for most of the night and held his own.
The 6-foot-4 senior notched a double-double (18 points, 13 rebounds) and was 9-for-12 from the field. Coleman praised the big guy's effort afterwards.
"We knew that losing Nick was going to be big for us, but we've got other guys that can step up," Coleman said. "And Jerard stepped up today."