DALTON, Mass. — Despite disallowing points in the paint for most of the game, the Wahconah boys basketball team's low-post defense weakened in the waning minutes as visiting Taconic claimed victory and first place in the North Division on Wednesday night.
Holding a slim lead late in the game, Taconic (10-4, 5-0 North) utilized its post presence amid an otherwise prohibitive interior defense to claim a 47-35 win over Wahconah (11-4, 3-2).
The visitors were nursing a five-point lead with three minutes, 50 seconds to play in the final period, when forward Mike Taylor re-entered the game after getting in foul trouble and scored the next six Taconic points to cap a 9-1 run for a 44-34 lead.
Taylor's eight points marked the only success Taconic maintained in the paint throughout the game. Its fourth-quarter run began with a Charles Davis long range shot, which gave his team 10 3-pointers on 20 total attempts, including 4-of-6 in the second half.
Taconic coach Bill Heaphey said he prepared his team for Wahconah's zone defenses, though it was its sharp-shooting that made the difference early in the contest.
"We knew we'd see zone — and different types of zones — so we had to execute against it. We didn't do a real good job of that, really, until the fourth quarter, when [Taylor] was back in the game, in terms of getting it inside. They did a nice job of keeping us [outside]. We were kind of living and dying by the three in the first half," Heaphey said.
Shaquille Ardrey, who entered the game with 971 career points, finished with 21 on six three-pointers. Ardrey's next opportunity to eclipse the milestone 1,000-point mark comes Friday at Pittsfield High School at 7 p.m.
"I'd like to get it there," Ardrey said. "I'd like to be in my hometown. It'd be easier for me to get that nine points in Pittsfield."
Ardrey and teammate Kyle Reardon hit consecutive long-range shots to give Taconic a 6-0 advantage and force Wahconah coach Dustin Belcher to call a timeout just more than one minute into the game. Wahconah continued to allow Taconic to take the open 3-point shots throughout the first half.
As those shots missed the mark, Wahconah used an 11-2 run spanning about six minutes to create its own open jump shots and earn trips to the foul line, gaining a 16-13 advantage with over three minutes left in the second quarter.
Leading 22-19, Wahconah was poised to enter the locker room with a half-time lead after Ryan McMahon hit a jump shot off of a Marco Anastasio feed and Marcus Duncan hit one of two free throws with less than a minute to play. But Ardrey knocked down a 3-point bucket at the buzzer from about five feet behind the arc to spoil the home team's momentum, to Belcher's chagrin.
"I'm disappointed we weren't able to carry the momentum in the second half," he said. "We struggled a little bit offensively, but we also gave away too many good looks from outside. Although we had spurts where I thought we played well defensively, at the end of the day, our inability to turn our defense into our offense, I think, was the difference today. We couldn't turn them over enough to get anything going."
A methodical tempo of play was indicative of both teams throughout most of the game. Heaphey said that, although he planned for his team to run in the open floor more, he encouraged jump-shooting opportunities, as long as they were taken at the appropriate times.
"I never tell my guys not to shoot. You have to be aware of time to score and where it is in the shot clock. If it's our first look, I think we can get a better look with a little bit more passing. So I tried to emphasize that at the half," Heaphey said.
Duncan was the only Wahconah player to reach double figures in scoring with 13 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the charity stripe. Wahconah was 10-for-16 from the free throw line as a team.
After beating previously undefeated Pittsfield on Monday, Wahconah missed its opportunity to position itself as the favorite to finish in the top spot in North Berkshire division. Next, it hosts Hoosac Valley (8-2, 2-1 North) at the Ladley Gymnasium this Monday at 7:30 p.m. The Hurricanes won the first meeting in Cheshire on Jan. 17, 62-32.