PITTSFIELD, Mass. – The Taconic boys basketball team Wednesday started its state tournament game against Paulo Freire much like the Thunder did when the teams played last year in the Division 5 semi-finals – by playing lockdown defense.
This time, Taconic had an offense to match.
Tayvon Sandifer scored 16 of his 25 points in the first quarter to help Taconic take a 33-10 lead en route to a 96-57 win and a berth in the D5 quarter-finals.
Maimoudou Bamba scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as the top-seeded Thunder improved to 20-3 and got some payback for last year’s 47-45 loss in the Final Four.
“We knew we would have to start out strong and not have to fight back,” Sandifer said. “It would have been way harder on ourselves. So we just did what we had to do, kept the momentum for the whole game, and came out with the win.”
In the 2023 matchup, Taconic held the Panthers to three points in the first quarter but had just a 9-3 lead to show for it. Paulo Freire seized the momentum in the second quarter and the squads were neck and neck the rest of the night.
In Wednesday’s rematch, Taconic forced 13 first-quarter turnovers and turned most of them into points.
“Both teams are a little bit different, but, yeah, we found some seams and gaps in their zone,” Taconic coach Bill Heaphy said. “But I think our defense ignited everything. That got us some offense and some transition baskets.
“Yeah, we were ready.”
Sandifer set the tone with a 3-pointer for the game’s first points. Taconic then forced a turnover that led to transition points for Caesar Santos (15 points).
After the Panthers’ Emmanuel Cruz (16 points) threw down a dunk to get his team on the board at 5-2, Taconic went on a 16-2 run to open a 17-point lead.
Sandifer had two more 3s during that run, which ended on a steal and lay-up by Christian Maturevich (eight points, 10 rebounds).
“Christian just does all the dirty work, the grunt work and never gets enough credit, but a vital piece to our whole puzzle,” Heaphy said.
Jayden McCartney scored 13 points, and Jamal Sistrunk finished with six points and six assists as Taconic went over 90 points for just the second time this season.
“We talked about how we’ve got to do the simple things, keep the game simple,” Heaphy said. “Guys are open, give it to them. [Sistrunk] did a really nice job of orchestrating the offense, getting us into stuff. That’s a good step moving forward.”
Taconic held Paulo Freire to six points through the first seven minutes, but the visitors got a couple of free throws on a double-technical and another Cruz dunk before the end of the quarter to get the score to 33-10.
The Thunder extended that lead in the second quarter, which saw the offense evenly distributed and ended with transition buckets from Steve Patch (four points, seven rebounds) and Sistrunk to send Taconic into the locker room up, 53-24.
Sandifer scored just two points in the second half, but he did it in style, converting a breakaway dunk off a turnover in the third quarter to bring down the house.
“He was our mainstay in the Lenox game,” Heaphy said of the senior leader. “He was solid the whole game, where it took us really until the second half to get going. He’s been ready the whole time. He was ready tonight.
“We follow him. When he goes, we go. And it’s good to see.”
Taconic will host eighth-seeded Sutton (13-8) in the quarter-finals on Friday at 7:30. (Previously announced as a 6:30 start).