BOSTON -– Catholic Memorial and Mansfield stepped onto the floor at UMass Boston in front of a buzzing crowd for a Division 1 South Sectional semifinals game, and delivered a performance that no one could have expected.
It was a game of heroic shots, defensive stands, surges and comebacks, game-changing hustle and so much more, and it need more than regulation to figure out who was better on Tuesday night.
The game needed more than just one overtime, and even more than two. Finally, after three overtimes, CM pulled out an exhaustive and emotional 96-90 win to punch it’s ticket to Saturday’s sectional final against North Quincy.
“Was it only three? It felt like 15,” said Mansfield coach Mike Vaughan.
Added CM coach Denis Tobin: “I’m speechless. Wow. That’s all I can say. That’s the best high school game I’ve ever been associated with. Two great teams, and neither team giving an inch.”
In the opening minutes of the game, it didn’t appear that such a show was in the offing as the Knights looked like a NASA space shuttle rocketing out to an easy 11-2 lead to start the content.
Just when it seemed the buzz around the game was unwarranted, the Hornets stung back, scorching CM for 15 straight points. They closed the first quarter on an impressive 18-2 run.
After a back and forth second quarter, CM went to the locker room at halftime sporting a one point advantage.
The third quarter looked very reminiscent of the early parts of the first, and the Knights outscored the Hornets 20-11 in the frame, taking advantage of a lot off missed Mansfield shots to take hold of a 10-point lead.
But just as Mansfield had already done once before, they volleyed right back in the fourth, tying the game by opening the quarter on a 12-2 run.
It looked like CM might win in regulation when Brandon Twitty knocked down a 3-pointer with 50.6 seconds to play, but a missed free throw attempt later on by the Knights left Mansfield a window to climb through.
The Hornets capitalized in the form a Ryan Boulter 3-pointer from the corner to tie the score with just two seconds to go.
An Aahmahne Santos 3-point heave at the horn rolled around the rim before falling away from the hoop to send it to the first OT.
Both teams traded opportunities to win the game through the three OTs but CM finally sealed it behind seven points from Guilien Smith in the third one.
“He was terrific, he got a lot of key hoops,” said Tobin. “We started isolating him around the end of the second overtime. He’s just a warrior out there.”
Added Vaughan: “We just ran out of gas and couldn’t make that last push that we needed. But what an atmosphere, it doesn’t get any better than this for high school basketball.”
Challenging of the guard: For much of the season, CM’s guards, Smith and Santos, have been regarded as one of the premier backcourts in the state. That appeared true on Tuesday as the duo combined on 54 points, including 10 in the last overtime.
Smith finished with a game-high 33, while Santos poured in 21 points in the win.
Santos is often viewed as the key that starts the engine that is CM’s offense, and one of biggest impacts he may have had against the Hornets was to jumpstart Brandon Twitty at halftime.
“He was terrific,” Santos said. “I had to go over to him and tell, ‘stick with me, stay with me in this game, I need you.’ And he just came through.”
He came through to the tune of 22 points, including 19 after halftime.
“He was on me a little bit at halftime about getting lazy defensively and going after offensive boards,” Twitty said. “Instead of sulking, I just used it as motivation to come out in the second half.”
In addition to the big three he hit near the end of regulation, Twitty also turned in perhaps the defensive play of the night for CM. In the final minute of the second overtime, he came away with a steal as Mansfield brought the ball up, raced down the floor and connected on a game-tying lay-up with 31 seconds on the clock.
“Huge three earlier and then a huge steal and a lay-in when I thought they might’ve been taking control,” said . That’s Brandon. You live with him. He may take a bad shot here or there, but he also makes some incredibly big shots.
Added Twitty: “I’m in awe right now. I’ve never been in such a crazy game in my life, but throughout that whole game, first overtime, second overtime, third overtime, I just kept telling myself ‘I gotta keep playing with confidence.’”
Hornets Stung: Someone had to be on the wrong end of a game like this, and unfortunately for Mansfield it was them this time around. The defending Eastern Mass. champs fully expected this to be a mountain to try and climb.
“I said it about halfway through the season that I thought the D1 South went through them with their depth and their style of play and the way they keep coming at you,” said Vaughan. “But hats off to my guys for the way they played tonight, and the way they kept coming back like that.”
The duo of Rocky DeAndrade and Michael Boen allowed them to match the run and gun Knights as they combined on 47 points in the loss.
DeAndrade knocked down six 3’s as part of his 28 point attack. Boen added a pair of treys in his 19 point effort.
Boulter was kept at bay for much of regulation, and had just five points until his game-tying corner three with just two seconds remaining in the fourth. He ignited from there, scoring 11 of his 19 in the overtimes.
“They were really bringing it,” said Smith. “Those guys are all really good players and they were all really hot out there tonight. We had to get real tough to beat them.”