AMHERST >> Feeding the ball to your go-to scorer and riding the hot hand is always a good strategy.
For the Tantasqua boys basketball team, star player J.J. Howland caught fire early and carried the Warriors to a 70-51 win over Pittsfield in the Western Massachusetts Division II championship.
Howland led all scorers with 28 points, and Pittsfield could not find an answer for him. Once Howland got going, the Warriors' 3-point shooters had more space to operate. They made 10 treys to Pittsfield's three. The difference in long-range shooting made it impossible for the Generals to close the gap.
"We didn't have an answer for [Howland] tonight," Pittsfield coach Steve Ray said. "He's got a complete game. He's the real deal. We knew we were going to struggle with him tonight, but again, we just didn't have an answer."
Tantasqua used great passing from the post to set up looks for its shooters.
Once Howland or Griffin Brooks caught the ball down low, if they didn't finish at the rim, they'd find an open shooter. Adam Phillips made five 3-pointers. He had 17 points.
"If we need a big shot, a blocked shot or a rebound, [Howland] is the guy we know they can go to," Tantasqua coach Tom O'Neil said. "Either he'll get [the basket] or get someone a great shot. When he's playing like that, everyone feels as thought they can do great things. They feel confident and then we're all going to feel it."
Pittsfield showed signs of life in the second half, as Kolbe Muzzy started the third with a layup, cutting the team's deficit to eight points. Nick Pechie answered with a 3-pointer, but Connor McDonough fired right back with a trey of his own, bringing the deficit to five. Pittsfield would not get closer than five, however. The Generals were outscored by a 20-7 margin to end the third.
Tantasqua continued to pull away in the fourth quarter. Both teams emptied their benches by the 2:41 mark.
The game got out of hand, but it looked as if it would be an even, high-scoring matchup.
Anthony Reinhold started the game with a layup off a steal. Phillips' 3-pointer gave the Warriors the lead. Howland followed with a layup and jumper. The teams traded baskets before Howland scored the next eight points. Josh Moore's jumper ended the rally, but Pittsfield trailed by eight after one. Howland started the second with a trey, but Simon Nassif and Reinhold helped Pittsfield cut its deficit to six. Phillips' deep 3-pointer put the Warriors up nine. Pechie added a 3-pointer as well.
Layups from Edwin Rodriguez and Tyrell Boire cut the deficit to seven at the half. Pittsfield could not play enough defense to close the gap, however. Howland scored off the dribble, in the post and using his jump shot. He scored 17 of his 28 points in the first half.
He added nine rebounds as well. Reinhold led Pittsfield with 12 points. Moore had 11 points.
Pittsfield's season is over, but the 2015-16 was a successful one. Ray said he team was fueled by doubts that it could not replace its nucleus of Chad Shade, Anthony Jones and company. Ray added that not only did his team silence its doubters, but he expects another strong year next season.
"We know we can build off of this," he said. "People have been writing us off for the last couple of years now. ... We came on strong and peaked at the end of the year, but our tank ran out a little too soon."
Rodriguez 1-1-3, Reinhold 4-3-12, McDonough 1-0-3, Q. Matthews 1-0-3, Moore 5-1-11, L. Higuera 2-1-5, Muzzy 2-0-4, Te. Boire 1-1-3, Nassif 0-2-2, Driscoll 0-0-0, Ty. Boire 1-1-3, C. Matthews 0-0-0, S. Higuera 0-0-0, Cracolici 0-0-0. Totals: 18-10-49.
Howland 9-9-28, Phillips 5-2-17, Peretti 0-1-1, McCaffrey 2-0-6, Arello 0-2-2, Pechie 4-0-10, Brooks 2-2-6. Totals: 22-16-70.
3-point goals — P 3 (Reinhold, McDonough, Matthews). T 10 (Phillips 5, McCraffrey 2, Pechie 2, Howland 1).
Contact Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252