AMHERST >> What the Easthampton boys basketball team lacks in size, it makes up for with effort, speed and toughness. The Eagles utilized their speed with a deadly full-court pressure, turning turnovers into points, leading to 68-47 win over Mount Greylock in the Western Massachusetts Division III semifinals at the Curry Hicks Cage on Tuesday.
After a turnover-filled first half from both teams, Easthampton turned up its pressure and Greylock did not respond well. Raphael Coleman scored the first seven points of the second half, sparking a 10-0 run. The rally put the Eagles up 40-25 and they did not look back. Greylock trailed by 11 at the end of the third, and an 11-3 run to start the fourth iced the game. Coleman led the way with 27 points.
"We're not blessed with great size," Easthampton coach Brian Miller said. "But what we have is four really quick guards. ... Once we get tips and steals we get out in transition. That's our whole goal is to speed teams up so they can't take advantage of their size."
The Eagles forced 29 turnovers, while committing just 15. The Mounties' mistakes were costly, as Coleman and company excelled at attacking the basket, finishing through contact or drawing trips to the free throw line. They out-shot Greylock from the free throw line by a 27 to 11 margin. Greylock coach Bob Thistle said it's hard to simulate Easthampton's pressure in practice.
"It's really hard to do," Thistle said of preparing for the pressure. "In the second half we missed some shots and we rushed our offense. We've got to credit Easthampton for that. They were up doubling and flying all over the floor. When you miss shots and turn the ball over — it's a deadly combination."
Coleman said the team's ability to finish through contact comes from its time spent in the weight room in the offseason. Despite being just 5-foot-7, he's fearless when driving the ball.
"We knew it was going to be hard because of our size," he said. "Our pressure gets in their heads and tires them out. They're not going to be able to get back on defense, or bring it up as fast as they used to. That's how we've been playing all season."
Fatigue may have played a factor in Greylock's struggle late, but the Mounties started the game well.
Sean McCormack did a great job of rebounding and keeping possessions alive. Zach Ronnow started the game with a basket in the post, and Brady Foehl and McCormack added layups as well. McCormack added two more layups, giving the Mounties a 10-3 lead midway through the first quarter. Easthampton closed the quarter on a 9-2 run, however, and the Eagles started the second on 7-2 two run. McCormack's layup ended the run with 6:45 left in the second. McCormack led Greylock with 14 points. Foehl had 12 points.
Easthampton converted 11 of 16 free throw attempts in the first half. Coleman's aggressive approach was key, scoring 15 first-half points. Aaron Ronnow's 3-pointer at the buzzer cut the Mounties' deficit to three at the half, but they could not build off the momentum.
Easthampton awaits the winner of No. 1 Sabis and No. 5 Hoosac Valley.
Thistle said his team proved doubters wrong by advancing to the Cage. With a majority of his team returning, the message to his players is to continue to get better and prepare for another tournament run.
"The one thing you can't buy is experience," he said. "With our core of seven or eight returners, what we'll have is experience. ... Getting into the tournament and winning a couple games — on the road against Palmer and playing a decent first half at The Cage — we can really build off that."
Backiel 0-0-0, Dils 0-0-0, A. Ronnow 1-5-8, Filson 0-0-0, McCormack 6-2-14, Foehl 5-2-12, Storie 1-2-4, Condon 0-0-0, Z. Ronnow 4-0-9, Hadley 0-0-0. Joy 0-0-0. Totals: 17-11-47.
Akanour 2-6-10, Bara 1-0-3, Coleman 8-10-27, Crisafulli 6-5-17, Levielle 0-3-3, Pek 1-1-4, Torres 1-2-4. Totals: 19-27-68
3-point goals — MG 2 (A. Ronnow, Z. Ronnow). E 3 (Pek, Coleman, Bara).
Contact Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252