NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — In the first of back-to-back contests, the McCann Tech boys basketball team stretched its conference winning streak to five games in a 58-32 win over visiting St. Mary's.
With a rematch against Gateway looming, the Hornets ran their Tri-County conference record to 5-1 and overall record to 6-4 by forcing turnovers to fuel their offense.
Down 5-3 to begin the game, Shane Fuller led a 23-2 run to pull away from the Saints. Fuller scored eight points of his game-high 25 points and assisted on a couple more baskets during the run.
“I think it all started with a hard defense. These last three games, we've been playing really hard defense and it's just executing into our offense and really helping,” Fuller said.
St. Mary's (1-7, 1-4 Tri-County) was held scoreless for more than five minutes until it hit a layup ended the dry spell with 20 seconds to go in the first period. Then, the Hornets backcourt stymied its opponents in the half court, forcing a slew of turnovers at the onset of the second quarter.
Opening the period up 17-7, the combination of Rahmer Vincent, Collin Recette and Nick Lincoln forced steals on five consecutive possessions for McCann. Those takeaways translated into transition baskets en route to a 26-7 lead with 5 minutes, 44 seconds to play in the half.
“We're not the greatest half-court team in the world, so we have to generate offense from our defense and get easy hoops,” coach Mike Nykorchuck said. “They're doing a really good job shutting down the [top] scorer on the other team. The team we were playing was struggling to score once we picked that player up.”
The Saints' Sam Thresher — who scored 116 points in a three-game span in the last week — was held to seven points in the contest. In a 58-41 win over Pioneer Valley Christian Academy on Tuesday, McCann held its leading scorer Genesis Arias to 14 points; he came in averaging 37 points per game.
The Hornets have now given up an average of fewer than 40 points per game in their last three contests, something Nykorchuck said can be attributed to an added level of focus on defense. McCann will alter its defense every two to three plays, according to Nykorchuck, who yells in the defensive assignment to his players, who in turn have grown accustomed to communicating that message with one another.
On Thursday, his team utilized the 2-3 zone, man-to-man and had particular success with half-court trapping.
Success on the part of the St. Mary's offense came in the paint, drawing fouls for free throws and scoring advantageously in the low post, including two baskets by big man Brendon Mickalay (15 point) to start the second half.
As a team that is consistently undersized, Nykorchuck said it is quickness that his team can make up the difference.
McCann travels to Northampton to face Smith Voc (2-5, 2-4) at 7 p.m. on Friday.
“Tomorrow night's a big game. We'll be up for it, because we know we gotta win that to set up the showdown that we want,” Nykorchuck said.
His team travels to Mount Greylock on Monday, before hosting the Gators on Thursday.
In its lone defeat in the Tri-County League to date, Gateway (7-1, 6-0) beat the Hornets 68-50, behind a combined 51 points from Curtis and Calvin Dowers on Dec. 23.