AMHERST, Mass. -- The Palmer boys basketball team Wednesday used an 18-5 fourth-quarter run to open a four-point game and go on to a 71-59 win over Drury in the Western Massachusetts Division 3 semi-finals.
Seven of Palmer’s points during the run and 13 of its 24 fourth-quarter points came at the foul line as the third-seeded Panthers (21-1) earned a date on Saturday against No. 5 Mount Greylock (18-5) for the sectional title.
Palmer used three first-quarter 3-pointers to build an early lead and hit three more triples in the third quarter.
“When they got open looks, they knocked them down,” Drury coach Jack Racette said. “You’ve got to tip your cap to them. I don’t know how many they made.
“And they lived at the foul line in the first half from offensive rebounding, and they lived at the foul line in the second half. We didn’t get to the foul line at all.”
Matthew Niemczura scored 21 points, and Ryan McCarthy added 17 for the Panthers. Each hit six foul shots in the fourth quarter.
Drury got 25 points and seven rebounds from senior Hayden Bird and 9 points and eight boards from Reece Racette, who checked out with his fifth foul midway through the fourth quarter.
By the time he sat down, it already was pretty much decided. HIs final foul of the season put McCarthy on the line to hit a pair that capped the 18-5 run and gave the Panthers a 65-48 lead.
Drury (18-4) cut the lead to four points on several occasions but never led after Matthew Remillard and Jack Cookish opened the game with 3-pointers on back-to-back trips to give Palmer a 6-0 lead.
It was a six-point game after one quarter, and the Panthers opened the second with an 8-0 run to open a 23-11 bulge when Cookish (10 points) scored in the post midway through the quarter.
From there, Drury rallied with a spark from Christian Montoya, who had a 3-pointer and scored in the post in an 11-3 run that got the Blue Devils within four, 28-24.
In the third, the teams traded 3-pointers, but Palmer came out on the long end, stretching its lead to 47-38 going to the final eight minutes.
Bird hit from the top of the key to open the quarter, and Racette set up Connor Meehan for a corner 3 to give Drury hope and cut the margin to 47-43 with 7 minutes, 14 seconds on the clock.
But Niemczura’s conventional three-point play started the decisive run, which ended with McCarthy hitting a pair from the charity stripe.
Drury graduates seven seniors, including Bird and Meehan, who were mainstays and starters all year. But the emergence of freshman big man Scott McGuire to go with returning vets Racette and Conor Clark gives the Blue Devils a nice core for 2017-18.
“We put ourselves in good positions [this year],” Jack Racette said. “We put ourselves in a good position to win the North this year, and we got beat by Taconic in a great game at our place. We put ourselves in a position to win a Western Mass championship. We just didn’t get it done in a big game. We didn’t shoot the ball exceptionally well, and they did. So you’ve got to tip your cap.
“And you’ve got to tell guys: If you choose to come back here, you’ve got to put the work in in the off-season.”