Big Fourth Quarter Lifts Hornets to VictoryNORTH ADAMS, Mass — The McCann Tech boys' basketball team did a lot of things right in the fourth quarter of its game against Dean Tech on Monday night, but making free throws wasn't one of them.
So while the Hornets outscored, outrebounded and outdefended the Golden Hawks, they couldn't put enough distance between them because of a 1 for 8 effort at the foul line. McCann's missed opportunities at the charity stripe allowed Dean to shave a nine-point deficit down to three points with less than two and a half minutes left in the game. One more errant free throw was just what the Hawks needed in order to cap off their comeback.
After Hornets' senior Mike Chappell misfired on pair of foul shots with his team leading by three, senior center Mitch Zajac was the next McCann player to step up to the line. His first shot was a wild one, bouncing hard off the backboard before clanging off of the front of the rim. The ball skipped backward, however, and hit off the back rim before dropping down through the net, The Hornets' free-throw drought was over, and Zajac swished his second attempt with 1:22 showing on the clock to give his team the momentum it needed to pull out a 51-43 win in front of a buzzing audience at The Hive.
"I knew I was going to make the second one after that one went in," Zajac said of the fortunate bounces he received on his first free-throw attempt. "The second one was no problem. I threw it right in there. [Before I shot it] I was thinking that I just had to make one.
"Some go in, some don't."
After Zajac (seven points, five rebounds) knocked down his two free throws, the McCann defense took over from there. Senior point guard Nate Gutmann made one of three steals on the night and started off a fast break that ended with his team-leading ninth assist, a wide-open lay in by Chappell with just under a minute left in the game. Chappell was a menace to the Hawks the entire second half, scoring 15 of his team-high 17 points and grabbing seven of his eight rebounds after halftime.
The Hawks (10-8) never scored again, and the Hornets had all the cushion it would need in order to pull out a huge Tri-County League win. McCann is now 9-9 overall and tied with the Hawks for second place in the league with a division record of 8-4. The Hornets need to win just one of their final two remaining games to qualify for the Division 3 Western Mass. tournament. They can also make it in if they maintain their second-place position in the Tri-County League standings.
After losing by nine points at Dean Tech three and half weeks ago, Justin Kratz's squad used their home court to its advantage in a game that certainly had a playoff feel to it. Senior center Zach Giron (11 points, game-high 15 rebounds) got McCann off to a solid start in the first quarter, scoring six points and grabbing six boards to help McCann score the final eight points of the frame and take a 10-7 lead into the second quarter.
The first half was a battle of the Hornets' half-court zone defense against the Hawks' full-court press. The visitors did force McCann into making 13 turnovers in the first half, helping Dean blow up for 19 points alone in the second quarter. Point guard Rey Espada sank three of his four 3-pointers and scored 11 of his game-high 21 points in the first half, and it was he and fellow guard Victor Colon who combined for 12 straight points to give the Hawks their largest lead of the game at 26-18.
Had it not been for junior guard Justin Cote, who came off the bench to score five quick points, the Hornets would have trailed by that same score heading into halftime. Instead, the hosts trailed by just three and quickly retook the lead by scoring the first five points of the second half. Chappell started asserting himself at that point, scoring all 15 of his second-half points from inside the foul line, including three baskets he made by scoring on putbacks off of offensive rebounds. The first putback he scored on gave McCann a 37-35 lead at the end of the third quarter. His second and third putbacks came back to back midway through the fourth quarter, giving his team what turned out to be an insurmountable nine-point lead.
"He's definitely a guy that can take over a game at points," Kratz said. "I'd like to see [both Zach and him] do a little more of that, but they like to get their teammates involved, and that's good. The first time we played them we didn't run our offenses at all. We just went helter skelter and tried to play street ball with them. Coming into this game, we really preached that we were going to have to run our offenses. The first half we did an OK job with that. I kind of laced into them a little bit at halftime, and I thought in the second half we did a much better job making sure we ran an offense every time down."
Chappell wasn't the only Hornets' forward to crash the boards in the second half. Both Giron and Zajac each had three offensive rebounds in the second half, helping McCann earn a 26-10 rebounding edge in the final two quarters. After being outrebounded 13-9 in the first half, it was something that eventually caught up with Dean late in the game.
"We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds," Hawks head coach Vilenti Tulloch said. "There was a couple of rebounds we should have got. They got four possessions in a row on one sequence there, and that really, really hurt us."
Even with the large discrepancy on the boards, Dean was able to hang in late in the game because of the Hornets' miscues at the foul line and because of a gutsy effort by Espada. He made two lay-ups during a 5-0 run for the Hawks' late in the game that pulled his team within three. That all changed when Zajac pulled down his final offensive board of the night, though. Espada made contact with him on his way back up, drawing his fifth foul of the game and leaving his team without its best shooter and leading scorer for the final 82 seconds of the game.
"I think they were just tired, and we ran them off," Zajac said of his team's rebounding advantage late in the game. "We do a lot of conditioning in practice, so we're all in good shape. We all played football together, and we all know each other really well."
"We you lose arguably your best player in the last minute and a half of a game when you're trying to make a run to come back, it's a tough thing to do for any team," Kratz said. "I don't know if they were gassed or what it was, but they just stopped boxing out. The offensive rebounds were there for the picking."
The Hornets will try to lock down their 10th win on Thursday with a 7 p.m. road game at Pioneer Valley Christian School.