COHASSET, Mass. -– In a matter of two possessions late in the fourth quarter against Cohasset on Friday night, Rockland's Tyler Gibson showcased the supreme athleticism that helped him turn into a scholarship athlete.
The Umass-Lowell signee stopped a Cohasset surge on one end of the floor, and kick-started one for the No. 24 Bulldogs on the other end, sparking the Bulldogs to a 61-59 win over the host Skippers.
With just over three minutes to play and the Bulldogs trailing by one, Cohasset seemed on the verge of building on its lead. Four times they sent shots toward the hoop, and each time were able to rebound their own miss.
On the fifth attempt, Gibson came from near the baseline to block a shot at the free throw line, with the ball bouncing right to Rockland senior point guard Bryan Tavares.
As he carried the ball over half court, momentum seemed to begin its shift toward the Bulldogs and Gibson made sure there would be no pendulum swing the other way.
After catching a pass from Tavares in the middle of the paint and using a spin move to free himself of his defender, the 6-6 forward took off, dunking the ball with two-handed authority through the rim, resulting in the 18th – and final – lead change of the night.
“As soon as Bryan lobbed the ball to me, I was like ‘I’m going to dunk this to change the momentum of this game,” Gibson said. “We kept fighting through everything and that dunk was a confidence shift for us. We kept fighting, and fighting and that’s how we won the game.”
Added coach Fred Damon: “A thunder dunk like that, never mind the two points, it’s what it does to the team –- spiritually, emotionally, to the crowd. And for the other teams, no matter what, when you get dunked on you get a little bit awed. Plus, it’s a pick-up for us. It’s huge.”
He put an exclamation point on his night, and on the win, on the final play of the game. With Cohasset trailing by two and just 10 seconds to go, Skippers 1,000 point scorer Shane Haggerty took off up the floor after a missed Rockland free throw.
Haggerty pulled up for a last second jumper from the elbow as time expired, but his shot never got near the hoop.
Gibson’s sixth block of the game landed outside the three-point line, sending Rockland (14-1, 12-1 SSL) home with a win.
“He’s a defensive force who changes a lot of stuff we usually are able to do,” said Cohasset coach Bo Ruggiero. “A lot of things we worked on to try and do against this Rockland defense, we succeeded pretty well at executing them, but he’d just come out of nowhere and alter our looks or block the shots.”
Those game-changing moments were merely a glimpse of how impressive Gibson was all night. He finished with 23 points and 19 points to go with the six blocks. He also knocked down five of his six free throws while playing all 32 minutes in the win.
“It’s amazing -– we take this kid for granted,” said Damon. “We’re always barking at him and wanting more and more, and he just does everything we ask of him. He’s the greatest kid in the world, and when he’s done here, we are going to miss him.”
ON THE BALL
Gibson’s 23 points were a game-high, and Rockland’s offense was bolstered by strong showings from both Tavares and junior swingman Matt Nicholson.
Tavares, who started slow and didn’t score in the first quarter, caught fire after drilling a three-pointer in the second. He poured in 17 points in all, hitting five times from beyond the arc. He also dished out four assists in the win.
Nicholson, who also hit a pair of three’s, finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and three assists in the win.
One of the biggest keys to the Bulldogs win, though, was the performance on both ends of the floor by sophomore forward Liam Ball. He netted six points and pulled in four rebounds. More important his personal stats, he held forward Joe Buckley to zero points.
He also tipped a pair of loose balls into the hands of Bulldogs players, both resulting in points.
“You can’t go by numbers to know what he did out there tonight,” said Damon. “Just the lift he gave us at the critical times he did was amazing. These guys were exhausted and we needed someone to make plays and he did that for us.
SENIOR SKIPPERS DRIVING COHASSET SUCCESS
Even though the Skippers (13-3, 10-3 SSL) saw their chances of winning the SSL crown severely diminish with the loss, their showing against the Bulldogs -– who will play a division higher than Cohasset in the sectional tournament at the end of the season -– is reason to be confident.
“We’re a good team, and they’re a good team,” said Ruggiero. “Tonight you saw how we can play against another very good team.”
Haggerty, and fellow senior Christian Davis, the team’s captains, were the driving force behind Cohasset nearly knocking of the Bulldogs.
Haggerty had 18 points, four steals, three blocks and three assists in the loss, while Davis poured in 20 points and had five assists and three steals.
“In that fourth period, Christian hit three three’s. Shane Haggerty was outstanding again,” said Ruggiero.
Davis notched 16 of his 20 points in the second half, and hit five three’s along the way.
“Our defense wasn’t bad tonight – we contested a lot of those shots,” said Damon. “Those guys were just hitting shots. Davis had five 3’s, we haven’t seen anything like that this year.”