AMHERST -- Sometimes the other team is just better and there's nothing you can do about it.
Such was the case when the Lenox boys basketball team dispatched Franklin Tech in a first-round game last week. The No. 5 Millionaires were on the other side of that Monday night against top-seeded Quaboag.
The Cougars had the Millionaires' number almost from the beginning and beat them at every turn, sending Lenox away 73-42 in a Western Massachusetts Division IV semifinal at the Curry Hicks Cage.
"To be honest, we just didn't come out with the same energy and same organization we came out with those last two games," Lenox's Evan Lanoue said.
The combination of Quaboag's Jacob Wisniewski and Gregory Sokol made life impossible in the paint for anyone wearing a Lenox jersey at both ends of the floor. No combination of Kris Vahle, Bailey Patella and Dillon Benham could establish a presence in the post.
On offense, that resulted in a lot of one-and-dones, and on defense, it gave Quaboag second-chance opportunities it certainly didn't need and seldom missed.
Wisniewski finished with a game-high 30 points, and only six of those came from the free-throw line. Sokol had only seven points, but came away with a handful of clean blocks. His best came on Evan Lanoue's breakaway layup midway through the second quarter, when he swatted the ball away at its highest point.
"I've been telling these guys and stressing that defense will win a championship," Lenox coach Scott Sibley said. "I really think come Saturday, whether it's Smith Academy or Granby, they're going to have a very difficult time with Quaboag. They just have the inside presence that's tough to stop with the Sokol kid and also Wisniewski."
Any time Lenox did gain possession in the post, a Millionaire rarely got a shot off cleanly and never without a hand in his face.
"Once we got in the half-court sets, I think, we panicked a little bit. They were up in our jocks, playing good man defense. I thought we could have handled it. I thought we panicked a little bit early," Vahle said. "We're not a conventional post team. We don't like to throw it in and play with our backs to the basket. We usually do use our height a little more, but I think they played physical. Probably, other than Sabis, the most physical team we played. Got to give the credit to their defense."
With Lenox unable to utilize its inside-out game, the guards needed to either make outside shots or drive the lane. Quaboag established early that shooting from the outside would be the easier option. Lanoue tried driving plenty, but each time, the Cougars collapsed, surrounded him and changed his shot.
"It's hard to play one-on-one basketball because when you got a team that knows how to play defense," Lanoue said, "they're going to drop, they're going to play help 'D' and they're going to collapse. That's what they were doing on me."
Quaboag's suffocating defense quickly drained Lenox of all the energy it had at the outset. Lanoue made a pair of mid-range jump shots for a 4-0 lead 1:07 into the game, but that was the beginning of the end. Quaboag went on a 16-4 run and finished the quarter up 22-16.
The biggest surge of energy Lenox received the rest of the way was from a Patella transition dunk with 3:11 left in the third quarter. While the dunk brought the Lenox faithful to their feet, it did little to cut into what was now a 51-22 Cougars lead.
The Millionaires were never able to get out and run consistently in transition, and any time they tried, Quaboag got back on defense in a hurry.
"That's effort, really, for one," Lanoue said of Quaboag's transition defense. "We're young. We're a little immature, and once that team started running on us, started getting a little lead, honestly, our effort was not there. We gave up. We really gave up. It's sad to say we gave up in a Western Mass. game. It really is."
Quaboag's lead ballooned to 39 points on Wisniewski's third basket of the fourth quarter but never reached 40. Lenox brought it back close to 30 by outscoring Quaboag 11-3 over the final 5:33, but the Cougars were well into their bench for much of the final quarter. The Millionaires' final three field goals were all 3-pointers. Seniors Vahle and Cam Sibley had the first two before sophomore Pat Colvin completed Lenox's scoring.
"I think we overachieved. Honestly, getting here for us, was great," Vahle said. "We were happy to get here, but we wanted to refocus and try to win Western Mass. I thought it was a great year, kind of ups and downs as a team. But, I think, between us and the coaches, it's been a really fun year. I think we improved a bunch."
To reach Josh Colligan:
On Twitter: @EAG_DigitalJosh.