ROCKLAND, Mass. -- A lot of preseason rumblings about the Monomoy boys basketball team were that they would be in the mix to win the South Shore League title, and would be a top contender once the Div. 4 South tourney rolls around.
The Sharks had a chance to showcase the preseason hype would become reality on Thursday night when they traveled to perennial South Shore League power Rockland, the defending league champs -- a program that has made the sectional tourney 41 times in 44 years, hanging 26 league champion banners in that time.
“We understand all the history, and all their banners, and the winning atmosphere that coach Freddy (Damon) has here,” said Monomoy coach Adam Rose. “This is what I’m trying to emulate and trying to get us to.”
An often used adage in the boxing ring is ‘to be the champ, you have to beat the champ,’ and Monomoy did just that, knocking off the Bulldogs, 54-53, in a thrilling come from behind win in Rockland’s raucous gym. It marked the third straight time the Sharks have bested Rockland, after handing them two of their three regular season losses a year ago.
Tavian Miranda connected on a game-winning free throw with 10 seconds left, but It was Evan Forgeron who made sure the Sharks would swim past Rockland this time, as the senior knocked down one big shot after another. He piled up 25 points, including 15 after halftime to help Monomoy erase what was at one point a 14-point deficit.
“He’s just a kid whose been ready for the spotlight for a long time,” said Rose. “As a coach, I’m really upset that I wasn’t able to give him that chance last year. All it takes is for one year to really jump out at you, and certainly tonight was his coming out party.”
It didn’t matter who was on Forgeron -- who hit five 3’s, he just seemed to come up with a big shot every time Monomoy needed one as more than half of the SSL coaches sat in the stands.
“The first thing I’m going to tell him is that every coach knows what he does now, and the better players can still do there do thing even when the other team knows its coming,” said Rose. “To be in an atmosphere like this, and to still have the wherewithal and be down to earth enough to make those shots when you need them, that’s what a captain does.”
Perhaps the most impressive part of Monomoy’s win was that they were missing a handful of players -- including several starters -- and played with a very short bench.
Dalton Nickerson made the bench feel deeper as he chipped in 12 points (11 after halftime) and five rebounds in the win.
“I call him my Kevin Love,” said Rose. “He does everything people won’t notice, but he’s still going to get himself on the stat sheet. Dalton is my rock, he’s our fundamental basketball player. Whenever we need a play made, Dalton is the guy we look for in order to get it. To come off the bench and play the minutes he played tonight, I can’t ask anymore from the kid.”
BULLDOGS CAUGHT WATCHING
A year ago, the Bulldogs had much success built on a three-headed monster of stars, headlined by Mass. Gatorade Player of the Year Tyler Gibson. Gibson was joined by Bryan Tavarez and Matt Nicholson as league All-Stars.
Nicholson returned this year, and many people were expecting big things from him. He delivered - pouring in a game-high 32 points to go with a dozen rebounds. He tallied all of the Bulldogs first quarter points, and was the lone Rockland player with a field until there just over two minutes left in the first half.
“We’re not going to have any success if no one else is willing to step up,” said Rockland coach Fred Damon. “The problem when you have a player like Matty, you get a lot of people standing around and watching him. When that happens, kids develop very habits and we saw that tonight. When they started collapsing on him, no one was moving to open areas, no one was looking for passes and no one was communicating.”
The result was Nicholson not only the go-to option, but for much of the night the only scoring option. In fact, only two others had more than two points for the Dogs as sophomore John Furr chipped in with eight points and classmate Stephen Norris added four in the Rockland debuts.
“We kind of did the same thing with Gibson last year,” said Rose. “Let him play his game a bit, and with Nicholson and Tavarez they had extra pieces. This year, we knew Nicholson was going to do what he does, and our biggest thing was let’s see what the rest of the team can do because they’re new from top to bottom.”
Early on, Nicholson seemed impossible to stop, registering nine points in each of the first and second quarters. And while he added another 14 after halftime, he had to work a lot harder to do so, taking tougher shots to get his points. The offense slowed down after Monomoy transitioned from man-to-man coverage to a 2-3 zone.
“One the defensive end, once we switched to zone we messed them up a little bit,” said Rose. “That’s what got us back in the game.”