Percy puts Braves on back, helps lead Taconic back to championship
SPRINGFIELD — Central Massachusetts champion Westborough did a lot of things well Wednesday night.
The Rangers shot the lights out from 3-point land, hitting 11 in the game. They made things difficult on Taconic's guards, forcing a couple air balls that were exacerbated by the Westborough student section. They even made some halftime adjustments to counter Mohammed Sanogo's rim-protection.
What the Rangers couldn't account for, however, was Isaac Percy.
Taconic's junior forward piggy-backed a 30-point outing in the Western Mass. championship game with 39 points in the Braves' 81-66 victory in the MIAA Division II state semifinals at American International College.
"That Western Mass. game ended and everyone was just glad for him. We knew he could do it, and it was a lot of good shots," Taconic senior Quentin Gittens said of his teammate. "He's taking good shots, nice looks and they're falling."
One could argue that the post-game fire alarm that sent fans scurrying for the exits of American International College's gymnasium was a direct result of how hot Percy was on Wednesday night.
Percy had 21 in the third quarter alone to help send Taconic to its second consecutive state final. The Braves have a second date and a second chance with Tech Boston, which took home the D-II crown last year, on Saturday in Worcester.
End Q3: Taconic 58, Westboro 44.— Mike Walsh (@CLNS_Walsh) March 14, 2019
In case there was any doubt as to what kind of postseason Isaac Percy is having, he puts this down at the buzzer. 21 in third alone. pic.twitter.com/HtP4rFRmpu
"That kid, Percy, was awesome. We knew that coming in, but he might have been better than I thought," said Westborough coach Brian Willar. "That kid is an absolute stud.
"That's a great team. They've got good guard play, they've got whatever you want to call [Percy], a hybrid, and a legit center."
Westborough started out steaming, as the Rangers got 3-pointers from seniors Matt Doherty, Dom Casparriello and Jake Hughes, stunning the Braves to a deficit in the opening minutes.
Taconic senior Quincy Davis countered with his own trey, and Percy was there with a steadying offensive hand. He put up six in the first quarter to ensure the Braves weren't behind long.
The 30 he put down on Saturday at UMass had Percy brimming with confidence the last few days of practice, and he carried that right into the showdown with Westborough.
"Getting those first few shots down, some easy layups, gets me going in the head and I know I can start playing my game," said Percy. "I just had to come into this game with the same exact confidence and try to play just as hard."
Percy poured in eight straight for Taconic in the second, turning a two-point advantage into a 27-17 lead. Gittens backed that run up by taking a charge and whipping a kick pass to fellow senior Christian Womble for a corner 3.
Westborough kept at it, though, and Doherty hit the second of his four, 3-pointers at the halftime buzzer to get back within five.
Percy's first-half 14 was mere foreshadowing of the third quarter, though.
With Gittens sidelined in foul trouble, Percy took over some ball-handling duties and that only stoked his offensive confidence more. With Westborough within one possession, Percy stormed into the paint for a 3-point play, motioning for the Taconic crowd to get involved.
Davis picked up an and-1 as well, and then Percy gathered up an offensive rebound for a putback and another hoop-and-harm.
Still, Taconic only led 45-38 with about four minutes left in the third quarter. That's when Percy went to another level, one Taconic coach Bill Heaphy has seen before. The Taconic coach wasn't surprised when his junior forward started taking over the game, but he did do a double-take when he heard the point total.
"I didn't expect Isaac to do all of that, but when Quentin went down we automatically think 'we need to get a playmaker,'" said Heaphy. "Isaac was in a zone. It was just, 'go ahead, get out of his way until you miss one,' I'm OK with it, and everyone else was too."
Percy proceeded to rain down three consecutive 3-pointers to roaring approval. By the time his heat-check fourth bomb rimmed out, Taconic led by 14. For good measure, he let the clock wind itself down on the final possession of the quarter, bouncing cross-over after cross-over in an isolation, before knocking down a jumper to make it 58-44 with eight minutes to play.
The Rangers kept gunning, and made things uncomfortable a few times in the fourth quarter, but Taconic's execution was near-perfect in staving off any kind of real run.
"The makeup of this team is not to quit, and Quentin is the leader of that," said Heaphy.
Gittens was 9 of 9 from the foul line in the fourth, scoring nine of his 11 points. On the whole, the Braves were a melodic 17 of 19 from the stripe in the final stanza. That included 4 of 4 from Sanogo, who finished with 12 points.
Next up is a Tech Boston team that beat Taconic 78-40 in the 2018 D-II state final in Springfield.
"I think we have to take it slow, one day at a time, and mentally prepare for that game," said Gittens. "Now everyone is experienced and we know what to expect.
"Last year everyone felt young and inexperienced. We know what it takes now."
Here's a nifty dime from Gittens to Sanogo for the dunk. Braves holding a 19-17 lead early in Q2. pic.twitter.com/FkVdJVjoO2— Mike Walsh (@CLNS_Walsh) March 13, 2019
Moody 2-1-5, Womble 1-0-3, Gittens 1-9-11, Davis 2-4-9, Tayi 0-0-0, Percy 14-7-39, McCown 1-0-2, Sanogo 3-6-12. Totals 24-27-81.
Donovan 3-0-7, Casparriello 7-5-22, Mike Doherty 2-2-7, Matt Doherty 4-0-12, Hughes 4-2-11, Steinberg 1-0-3, Badger 0-2-2, Lentine 1-0-2, Wright 0-0-0, Burlile0-0-0. 22-11-66.
Taconic 17 15 26 23 — 81
Westboro 13 14 17 22 — 66
3-point goals — T 6 (Percy 4, Davis, Womble); W 11 (Matt Doherty 4, Caspariello 3, Mike Doherty, Donovan, Steinberg, Hughes).
Mike Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @CLNS_Walsh on Twitter and 413-496-6240.
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