Defense, Huban's 20 Lift Wahconah in Quarter-Finals
EASTHAMPTON, Mass. -- Through three quarters on Thursday night, the Easthampton boys basketball team had nine field goals.
Wahconah had blocked eight of the Eagles’ attempts from the floor.
That was the kind of defensive effort that propelled Wahconah to a 58-29 win and a berth in next week’s Western Massachusetts Division 3 semi-finals at Curry Hicks Cage at UMass-Amherst.
“We knew they were a good offensive team,” Wahconah junior forward Tom O’Connor said. “[Ronan Mottor] is a very good player. He gets to the rim well. We knew we had to switch defenses to keep them honest and keep them from getting good looks, and we did that well.
“We game-planned a lot for their offense. … We just stuck to our game plan, and everything worked out.”
Mottor finished with five points -- all in the first quarter.
O’Connor ended with 13 points to go with 10 rebounds and five blocks. Tom Burris also had a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards plus three blocks. Kevin Huban scored a game-high 20 points.
No. 5 Wahconah (17-5) moved on to face top-seeded Sabis (17-4), an 88-65 winner over Murdock on Thursday night, in the semi-finals.
The quarter-final at No. 4-seeded and defending sectional champion Easthampton (14-7) turned with a 10-0 Wahconah run midway through the second quarter.
It started on the defensive end with an O’Connor block and Luke Hescock rebound. Huban scored in transition to make it 17-10.
After another of Hescock’s six boards got the ball back for the visitors, Tim Clayton set up O’Connor for a 3-pointer to give Wahconah its first double-digit lead, forcing Easthampton to call timeout.
The break didn’t slow Wahconah’s momentum as it forced a turnover on the Eagles’ next possession, and O’Connor scored from the right wing to make it 22-10. Then on Wahconah’s next trip, Huban hit a deep 3-pointer as the shot clock wound down to make it a 15-point advantage.
O’Connor would score one more time in the half, and Wahconah held the Eagles to just four points in the second quarter to take a 27-12 lead into the locker room.
“I thought we did a great job responding to the challenges tonight,” Wahconah coach Dustin Belcher said of his team’s defensive effort. “The Mottor kid is such a great player -- we had scouted them a few times -- especially when they play here. … The effort on defense was just amazing.
“I thought we did a good job with the different personnel in there at times, guys giving us what they could. Just a total team effort on the defensive side.”
O’Connor set the tone to open the second half with a blocked shot and a rebound on the Eagles’ opening possession of the third, but Easthampton showed a little life midway through the quarter, using a 7-0 spurt to draw within 10 at 31-21.
But after a Wahconah timeout, Belcher’s team responded with the a 4-0 run to the break to maintain a 14-point margin.
It was a 12-point lead with about five minutes left when Wahconah put the game away with an 11-0 run that started and ended with buckets by Huban, the last giving his team a 23-point lead with 2:36 to play.
Wahconah will need to maintain its defensive effort in the next round against Sabis, which, like Wahconah, bowed out in the Western Mass semi-finals last year at the Cage.
“Very good team,” Belcher said of the Bulldogs. “I’ve seen them a few times this year. They’re athletic. But I think if we come in and play with the same defensive intensity we’ve had, especially the last few games, we can give them fits. And then we’ve just got to win one possession at a time.”
O’Connor and his teammates are excited for a chance to be going back to the sectional’s Final Four.
“Three out of three years for me,” O’Connor said. “We’re hoping to get back to the finals. Sabis is a very good team. So we’ve got to prepare and give all we’ve got for them.”