Taconic boys basketball blows out Longmeadow in Division II Western Massachusetts semifinal
Just a month and a half ago, the Taconic boys basketball team lost a close game to Longmeadow at home. Spectators at the first meeting may not have recognized the Braves squad that took the court Thursday at Western New England University for the Western Massachusetts Division II semifinal. These Braves played fearlessly, executing their game plan to perfection and rolling to a 68-40 win over the No. 2 Lancers. The No. 6 Braves advance back to the Division II title game for the second year in a row. They'll face top-seeded Northampton at the Curry-Hicks Cage, Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Taconic had lost its last three games against Longmeadow, including last year's Western Mass. final. In a do-or-die situation, the current Braves team was ready to rid itself of the sour taste the Lancers had left in its mouth over the years.
"I feel like with this squad, we're just ready to eat and ready to attack right away," senior Javier Osorio said. "We don't really look for someone to get going to get all of us going. We just get going all together. We're one unit."
Robert McCown's (14 points) shooting helped the Braves jump ahead quickly. His first trey capped an 11-2 run with 4 minutes, 5 seconds left in the first. The junior guard added another triple, followed by two free throws, giving Taconic a 12-point lead after one.
The Braves offense was flowing, and a small tweak to the starting lineup gave their defense a boost. Coach Bill Heaphy inserted 6-foot-6 sophomore center Mohammed Sanogo into the starting five during the first game of the tournament against Tantasqua. The lengthy post player made an immediate impact with his high energy and long wingspan.
During a sequence in the second quarter, Sanogo ran the break hard and Christian Womble rewarded him with a well-placed pass for the alley-oop layup. On Longmeadow's next possession, Sanogo jumped into the passing lane for a steal and finished at the other end with a one-handed slam. The big man finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
"It's definitely exciting," Sanogo said of his play during the tournament so far. "My coach says, 'go out there and be aggressive.' So that's what I do. I just go out there and give my all for the team."
With each block, rebound and dunk, Sanogo's teammates seemed to feed off his energy. His presence in the paint allowed the perimeter defenders to play with more aggression without the fear of getting beat at the rim. Not only did the Braves take away drives to the paint, but they sagged off Longmeadow's shooters, daring them to beat them from the outside. Taconic maintained a 20-plus point lead throughout the second half. The Lancers' inability to connect from deep (just two made 3-pointers) made a comeback attempt impossible.
"It was one of those nights for us," Longmeadow coach Pat Murphy said. "We picked the wrong night to have our worst game of the season. Offensively we couldn't get anything started from the tip to the horn. A lot of credit goes to coach Heaph[y] and Taconic. They played great tonight and we didn't respond well."
With Longmeadow in desperation mode, the Braves really opened up their offense in the fourth. Quentin Gittens (11 points) and Womble showed great vision with their passes, consistently setting up teammates for easy baskets.
Womble's quick pass underneath to Sanogo set up a rim-rattling slam with 3:26 left, putting Taconic up 58-33. The jam was a perfect exclamation point in a statement win by the Braves.
As Taconic prepares for Saturday's championship game, it will enter the matchup with the confidence of a team that's waited an entire year to return to that stage.
Heaphy said he's noticed the confidence in the way his players carry themselves. In order to earn the crown of Western Mass. champ, they'll need to continue to play up to the statement on their shirts — NO FEAR.
"We talked just about that with this group, I honestly feel this group is so confident," Heaphy said. "They play year round. These guys are full-year basketball players. ... There's no fear in those guys. I think that's the difference."
Womble 2-0-5, Gittens 4-2-11, Osorio 5-2-12, Moody 0-0-0, Percy 3-0-6, Cross 0-0-0, Sayers 3-2-8, Tayi 0-0-0, McCown 3-5-14, Sanogo 5-2-12. Totals: 25-13-68.
Hurwitz 3-2-8, Levin 3-0-7, Mishol 2-2-6, Echeverria 2-5-9, Pritchard 1-0-3, McLaughlin 2-1-5, Kelly 0-2-2. Totals: 13-12-40.
Taconic 18 12 17 21 — 68
Longmeadow 6 7 12 15 — 40
3-point goals — T 5 (Womble, Gittens, McCown 3). L 2 (Pritchard, Levin).
Akeem Glaspie can be reached at email@example.com, at @TheAkeemGlaspie on Twitter and 413-496-6252.
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