BOSTON, Mass. -- Why play hard when you can play smart?
With three seconds left in the game, Mansfield’s Michael Lofton was being contested for the potential go ahead point after battling back to break even after being down as many as eight points in the fourth quarter. Instead of scoring point 18, he dumped off to his teammate Chris Johnson, who had scored earlier in the fourth, for the go ahead win, sending the Hornets (24-2) into the Eastern Mass Division 1 finals against St. John’s Prep on Tuesday night.
“Michael’s been our best player all year long,” Mansfield head coach Michael Vaughn said. “But the staple of our team has been our ability to pass the basketball and share. I really think if Michael goes up with that, now it’s a challenged shot, the result might have been a little bit different, but just playing the way we’ve been playing all year, he throws the extra pass to an uncontested (player).”
“It feels good that I know that I have other scorers that can score like CJ,” said Lofton (16 points, 12 rebounds, three steals). “He’s a great scorer. He’s one of those 50/50 winners that can get the ball and score in the paint… He came through for us.”
With 1:50 left in the game, after Lofton got one of his three steals on the day, Jeff Hill made the layup in transition to tie the game at 42.
“The shot clock was running down and I just took it to the hoop, which was open so I took the layup,” said Hill (6 points, 10 rebounds, 4 steals)
Luke Westman made the return basket for Newton North (19-7) on as assist by Avi Adler-Cohen to put the Tigers up 44-42. Lofton got an offensive rebound off of a miss on the next possession and tied the game up again, at 44. Playing tenacious defense, the Hornets had the Tigers on their heels, and as Adler-Cohen dove out of bounds near the scorers’ table to keep the wayward ball in play, Lofton intercepted the save, zoomed half the distance of the court to the basket and flushed the ball with :35 left, sending the Mansfield pride soaring behind the same basket that he had just kissed with the ball, putting his team up 46-44.
“I was getting a little tired,” added Lofton. “But the drive to keep me going, keep me on my feet was that this is my senior year, and we had to put it all out there to win this game. Not many people get this opportunity to play at The Garden twice.”
After a Newton North timeout, Tevin Falzon (14 points, 16 rebounds, two blocks) drained another two free throws after being fouled on a rebound to tie the game up at 46. Coming down the court, the Tiger defense was expecting for Lofton to take the last second shot, but he found the rolling Johnson down low who put it in without opposition, putting the Hornets up 48-46 with three seconds left.
“He had great court vision looking for me and finding me under the basket wide open,” said Johsnon. “I’m just glad that I finished it.”
The ensuing inbounds pass was deflected by Johnson (12 points, five rebounds, four steals), sending the ball up in the air and the Mansfield boys into each other’s arms, celebrating their comeback victory, as Newton North held the lead since 4:25 in the second quarter, when a Brian Santana layup pushed the Tigers past the Hornets 18-17.
“I think that’s how our whole team has been made up all year,” added Vaughan of Johnson, who had three steals in the first quarter, but didn’t make another standout defensive stop until the last seconds of the game. “Guys like Johnson who come up with big plays when we need them.”