TURNERS FALLS -- No one in the Turners Falls camp would have ever called it easy, but for the first 4 1/2 minutes Friday night, the Indians’ boys basketball team had everything going its way with a 16-2 lead in a Western Massachusetts Division IV quarterfinal game.
Lenox absorbed that initial blow, however, and slowly reeled in the Indians to pull even early in the second quarter. That led to a nip-and-tuck slugfest that didn’t break open until the last two minutes, when the fifth-seeded Millionaires finally edged in front to stay for a 74-68 victory.
Lenox advances to a Division IV semifinal against top-seeded Quaboag (21-2) on Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Curry Hicks Cage. Quaboag advanced by beating Lee 81-37 in another quarterfinal Friday.
Evan Lanoue led Lenox (16-6) with 16 of his team-high 21 points in the fourth quarter alone, including a ridiculous 3-pointer with 23 seconds to go that boosted the Millionaires’ two-point lead to five. Bailey Patella and Ben Herrick each finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Herrick knocked down five 3-pointers, the biggest part of Lenox’s outstanding 8-of-13 accuracy from deep.
In his final game, senior Malcolm Smith put up 21 points for Turners (17-5), leading four Indian players in double digits. Liam Ellis scored 15, Melvin Moreno had four 3-pointers for 12 points and Nick York ended with 11.
"We were very concerned about their offense," said Indians coach Gary Mullins. "We just didn’t slow them down enough, it’s that simple. They hit some big shots when they had to, and they had a little more size and an advantage on the boards."
Ellis’ third 3-pointer of the night with 2:55 left in the fourth quarter pulled Turners into a 63-63 tie, but Lenox strung together a mini-run of six in a row that made the eventual difference. Dillon Benham worked along the baseline for a layup, Patella made two at the line and Lanoue went coast-to-coast for a driving layup that made it 69-63 with 1:19 to play.
Turners got two foul shots by Smith before one free throw by Lanoue, then Smith nailed a 3-pointer from the left corner to make it a 70-68 game with 31.8 seconds left.
After an Indians’ timeout, the Millionaires got the ball into the frontcourt to Lanoue. Rather than play keep-away or try to get fouled, Lanoue hoisted a 3-pointer from the right elbow that, almost predictably, swished home.
"We had just discussed that [at the timeout]. We were going to try to use most of the clock," said Lenox coach Scott Sibley. "He shot that up, and I’m thinking, ‘What are you doing?’ A beautiful shot, and he said he was feeling it. That’s kind of how we’ve been all year. We let ‘em go out and shoot if they’re feeling good."
After a pair of missed 3-pointers by Turners, Kris Vahle (10 points) went to the line for Lenox and made one free throw with 6.8 seconds left for the 74-68 final.
At the outset, Vahle scored the game’s first basket before Turners took off behind the combination of Smith and York. The duo each scored a pair of hoops, once each off a steal to put the hosts up 8-2, forcing a Lenox timeout, then continued with a trey by York, a trey by Smith and a layup by Smith. Suddenly, the Indians’ dream start had them up 16-2 with 3:35 to play in the opening quarter.
Sprung into action, the Millionaires got a 3-ball from Herrick, a conventional 3-point play by Benham and a driving score by Lanoue for a quick 8-0 run and a 16-10 game. Jalen Sanders and York answered with layups before Patella scored late for Lenox, leaving Turners up 20-12 after one.
That lead evaporated in a flash with 3-pointers by Herrick and Patella sandwiching a fast-break score by Vahle, creating a 20-20 tie less than 90 seconds into the second quarter.
"We came out very slow and kind of dug ourselves a hole, but the kids responded pretty well," said Sibley. "We knew these guys would be tough. Their transition and up-tempo hurt us."
Moreno heated up for the Indians with the first of his three 3-pointers before the half, and Ellis’ putback made it 25-20, before Lenox hit back with six in a row. The game swung back and forth before Moreno dropped in another trey with only 4.5 seconds to go, and the teams went to the locker room knotted at 33.
Lenox then took a 41-36 lead early in the third, helped by a pair of threes by Herrick, but the Indians rallied with a big helping of Brody Markol, who scored all seven of his points in the quarter. Ellis’ bank shot off the high glass put Turners ahead 48-47 with just over a minute left, but Herrick sank another three and Vahle made a foul shot for a 51-48 Millionaire lead after three.
Lanoue started his monster fourth quarter with two free throws and a 3-pointer as Lenox took its largest lead of the night, 58-52, with 6:29 left. Turners answered with eight straight in barely a minute, behind 3-pointers from Ellis and Smith wrapped around Smith’s fast-break score, and took its last lead, 60-58, at the 5:28 mark.
Three free throws and a reverse layup by Lanoue put Lenox up 63-60 prior to Ellis’ tying basket, before the Millionaires took hold of the last couple of minutes.
"We made too many 3-pointers, to be honest," said Mullins of Turners’ 11-of-31 showing from beyond the arc. "We went through a spell where that’s all we wanted to do. You’ve gotta get inside, but that’s not how we’re made. That’s a tough way to survive. You’ve gotta shoot the ball extremely well. We shot it OK, not great, and that was a little disconcerting."