'Canes Pick and Roll Their Way Past Devils

By Ryan HolmesiBerkshires.com
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. -- There was a moment somewhere in the middle of the second quarter when everything changed in the game between the Drury and Hoosac Valley boys' basketball teams. The Hurricanes found a great deal of success with pick and rolls, and the Blue Devils just couldn't find a way to stop it. 

This sparked an 11-0 run to end the first half for Hoosac, and Bill Robinson's squad never looked back on its way to a 61-49 win at Bucky Bullett Gymnasium. The victory gives the Hurricanes (6-11) a season sweep over their rivals to the north and some much needed confidence after their loss to Greenfield on Monday eliminated Hoosac from postseason play for the second year in a row. 

Drury and Hoosac never seem to be too far away from each other in terms of both talent and their place in the standings. Both teams are well coached and play ferocious defense, so it comes down to the little things in determining who is going to win the game. On Friday night, it was the Hurricanes' execution on offense that gave the visitors the edge. 

After a first quarter which both teams felt each other out, the Blue Devils (6-9) took a one-point lead thanks to a steal and lay-up by point guard Isaiah Pantoja (team-high 15 points) and a finish by forward Nolan Bird. That's when Hoosac's pick-and-roll offense started clicking, leading to several easy buckets by the visitors. Senior forward Andrew Milesi only had six points the entire game, but they all came on back-to-back-to-back possessions midway through the second quarter to spark an 11-0 Hurricanes' run. Milesi scored on two easy lay ins and then finished another on an offensive rebound and putback to put the visitors up 17-12. 

Milesi's younger brother, Austin, who found Andrew down low for the last of his three baskets, also scored on a putback to push Hoosac's lead to seven points. Senior Corey Puccio then put the exclamation point on the Hoosac run, sinking a 3-pointer from the left wing to give the 'Canes a 22-12 lead at halftime. It was just one of three big triples Puccio sank on Senior Night in his last game playing against Drury. 

"The momentum just kept on going on that pick-and-roll offense," Robinson said. "I know Coach [Jack] Racette was yelling at his guys to not jump and hang out. But it's just hard to stop when you're running it well. If we don't take the corner on the dribble to draw that guy and they push us up, then we can't do what we did. We've been working on it all year, so it's great that it showed up in Game 18 and finally worked." 

While the Devils' offense started the game OK, the hosts ran into a serious drought in a second quarter in which they only managed to score five points. Racette's team got some good looks at the basket but, for whatever reason, Drury's shots were way off the mark, even missing the rim entirely on a few occasions. 

"Give them credit," Racette said. "They ran [the pick and roll] good, and we didn't defend it. We scored five points in the second quarter. You score 12 points in a half, and you're not winning games. There's nothing else to say. We got decent looks [in the second quarter], but we're not poised. If Nolan doesn't play good, we're in trouble." 

It was a tough night for Bird, who scored 10 points below his season average and managed just one free throw after halftime. The senior forward was attacking the basket and being aggressive, but he just couldn't seem to finish on his looks inside the paint. The ball just wouldn't find the back of the net, and the 'Canes got a great defensive effort from Matt Braman. The junior guard also knocked down a couple of big threes on his way to a 12-point night on the offensive end. 

While Bird had an off night, Hoosac got all it needed and more from its top scoring threat. Junior forward Trevor Alibozek was a big-time player in the second half, scoring 13 of his game-high 18 points after the break. He also snagged a game-high 13 rebounds and had an answer on the offensive end every time the hosts made a run. After Pantoja scored seven points in a row to cut the Hurricanes' lead down to seven points with just under three minutes to go, Alibozek scored his final points of the night on a runner in the lane to kill any chance of a Blue Devils' comeback. 

"Alibozek gets 18, and Nolan gets five," Racette said. "That's a 13-point difference, and that's what we got beat by." 

Hoosac continued to get good looks off of the pick and roll in the third quarter, eventually opening up a 15-point cushion after consecutive lay ins by senior Jake Hall and a steal and a lay-up by Braman. The hosts got a big lift from junior Tyler Briggs, however, who hit three shots from behind the arc in the third quarter alone to keep the game within reach. Sophomore Kareen Beckett (10 points, four assists) also stepped up late in the quarter, finding senior Alex Boulger for an easy bucket on the block before sinking two of his eight foul shots to pull Drury within seven points heading into the fourth quarter. 

It looked the game was coming down to a dramatic ending when a critical call allowed Hoosac to score six points on one trip up the court. The Hurricanes set up a cross-court screen to get Puccio an open look at a three from the left corner. Briggs ran full steam through the screen, getting the attention of the referee in the process. He called Briggs for the foul and then gave Puccio credit for the three even though it was a few seconds behind the whistle. Hoosac retained the ball because of the foul on Briggs and then found Braman all alone at the top of the key on the inbounds play. Braman calmly sank another 3-pointer  to turn a seven-point lead into a 13-point edge. 

"That was a really big swing there," Alibozek said. "They're both great shooters, and I thought that gave us a lot of momentum." 

"We put that in in practice the other day," Robinson said of the play that sprung Puccio for his final three of the game. "We got a big basket against them last time we played them on a screen to screener inside. I knew he was going to try and pack it in, so we said, 'Let's run a play, get everybody sucked in and we're going to send the first screener back to the top.' We threw it over the top, and Puccio hit a huge shot for us. 

"We doubled up on that possession, and it was huge." 

It ended up being too much for the Devils, who now need victories in their final three games against Lee, Wahconah and Pittsfield to qualify for the Western Mass. tournament. 

"It went from seven to 13 in one possession," Racette said. "We fought way too hard to get to there, and we're not coming back from 13. If it was seven [points], we'd have a chance." 

It was a big win for a Hurricanes' squad that has dropped too many close games this season. Robinson is hoping, with three out of his five starters returning next season, that it's the kind of win that carries over to next year. 

"We've got to grow up a little bit and get a little tougher," Robinson said. "We've been right there. There's nobody to blame but ourselves. We've had six losses by five points or less. Four of those six losses, we had the lead with two minutes or less left in the game. We just need to get mentally tougher." 

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