SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Perhaps no player has come further for the Taconic boys basketball team this season than sophomore center Mohammed Sanogo.
On Thursday, he helped his team get back to the Western Massachusetts Division 2 title game.
Sanogo scored 12 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, blocked a pair of shots and threw down a pair of dunks as Taconic beat Longmeadow, 68-40, at Western New England University.
Unlike the collection of veteran gym rats on Taconic’s roster, Sanogo is a relative newcomer to the game, but it has not taken him long to catch up, according to coach Bill Heaphy.
“He’s a quick learner, and he wants to learn,” Heaphy said. “He’s coachable, he listens. He’s not afraid to learn. It comes from his mother. His mother’s a great woman.”
Sanogo was a key contributor off the bench most of the season, but he got the call for the starting lineup in Taconic’s sectional quarter-final game last week.
“You see what Mohammed brings,” Heaphy said. “It was an easy decision [to start him]. And [Christian Womble] is a great teammate who understands that. He’s still going to get quality time.
“It just gives us a certain different look that we’ve never had.”
The 6-foot-6 Sanogo was a difference maker right from the start on Thursday, scoring eight and grabbing seven rebounds in the first half as sixth-seeded Taconic (15-7) built a 30-13 half-time lead.
His putback of an offensive rebound midway through the first quarter capped a 13-2 Taconic run to open the game. Midway through the second quarter, he scored on an alley-oop from Womble and threw down a dunk in transition on consecutive possessions to push the lead to 26-10.
After giving up 55 points in a regular season loss to Longmeadow in Pittsfield, Taconic’s defense Thursday played the kind of game its fans are more accustomed to seeing.
“We made some different adjustments playing this game than we did the first time,” Heaphy said. “We played their personnel a little differently defensively, which hopefully was going to keep us out of the situation of fouling.”
Back on Jan. 24, the second-seeded Lancers (15-7) scored 22 points from the foul line, and Taconic starter Isaac Percy fouled out midway through the fourth quarter of a four-point loss.
On Thursday night, Longmeadow took just two foul shots in the first half and ended with 10 points from the charity stripe.
Percy went the distance and scored six points to go with nine rebounds.
Robert McCown was the high man for Taconic with 14 points -- nine on 3-pointers. Javier Osorio scored 12, and Quintin Gittens added 11.
Gittens scored the game’s first points with a jumper from the baseline on the right wing. Osorio’s putback made it 4-0, and Sanogo converted a pair of free throws after he was fouled on a putback attempt to make it 6-0.
After Longmeadow got on the board, Gittens drove the baseline for a pair, and McCown hit his first 3-pointer with an assist from Osorio before Sanogo scored to establish Taconic’s first double-digit lead at 13-2.
The Lancers answered that bucket, but McCown drilled another 3 to get the lead to 16-4, and Longmeadow never again got within single digits.
“Our kids are primed right now,” Heaphy said. “They’re pretty focused, pretty energized. They’re coming together.”
And after avenging last year’s loss to Longmeadow in the Western Mass finals, this year’s Taconic squad has firmly established its own identity -- one year removed from the historic run of the Class of ‘17.
“Halfway through the year, we talked about, ‘You know what, guys, we’re not young anymore. Let’s get that out of our heads,’ “ Heaphy said. “We can’t use that as an excuse. Because these guys play all the time. They play year round.
“We knew coming in we weren’t going to be taken seriously. … Knowledgeable coaches knew what we had, but putting it together is a whole other thing. It was a tough act to follow last year, the group that left. It was a good group.
“But these guys halfway through the year until now have recommitted themselves and come closer together as a team, and it shows.”