NORTON – Routinely, the ball goes around and around as the Norton High boys’ basketball team looks for an open look and a better shot on the floor.
Sometimes, it can be confounding, passing up the first shot that presents itself, but the Lancers have the habits and the poise to be patient and rotate the ball. And so it was at a packed Larry Larocque Gymnasium Thursday night in the opening round of the MIAA Division 3 South Sectional Tournament.
The Lancers put on such a display of offense that they led from start to finish, carving out a 65-44 verdict over Rockland.
The Lancers hit 10 3-point shots, five from the hand of sharp-shooting senior Keenan Coffey, who scored 12 of his 17 points during the first half to put Norton in front by 13 at intermission.
Senior guard Bret Murphy knocked down a trio of trifectas as well, accounting for 11 of his 16 points over the initial 16 minutes, to go along with five rebounds and four assists.
And senior guard Jason O’Neil scored 16 of his 18 points during the second half, along with five rebounds and three blocked shots to deliver a knockout punch to the No. 11 seeded Bulldogs (10-9).
Pack in the always perky play from southpaw senior Brandon Jenkins (five rebounds, two blocked shots) and senior forward Paul Caramanica (seven points, five rebounds) and the No. 6 seeded Lancers (14-7) have a recipe for success, such that they return to their home floor on Saturday for a 2 p.m. tapoff quarterfinal round game against Archbishop Williams.
“That lead in the first half was because he (Coffey) hit some very big 3’s,” beamed Norton High boss Marc Liberatore of the Lancer nailing four of the Lancers’ seven over the first 16 minutes. “They (Rockland) were identifying Jason (O’Neil) and Bret (Murphy),” the Lancers shooting 10-for-22 during the first half, while committing just four turnovers.
In a glorious stretch of 60 seconds midway through the second quarter, Murphy set up Coffey for a 3-pointer from the left side for a 17-10 lead. Then Coffey nailed another from atop the foul circle. And for good measure, with two Bulldog defenders in his jersey, Murphy fired in another from the left flank to build a 23-10 margin with more than four minutes left.
“It was time for us,” explained Coffey of the Lancers’ shooting skills, Norton’s rapid ball movement creating open looks, virtually uncontested on seven of the 10 3-pointers that they hit. “My teammates helped me out with screens and passing, I felt good when the ball left my hand.”
Did it ever, a trio of 3-pointers by Coffey and a pair by Murphy in that second quarter (with just one turnover too!) denting Rockland’s man-to-man defensive switches.
And even though Jenkins picked up his fourth personal foul just 1:09 into the second half (the Lancers having a 13-point lead at the time) and sophomore reserve forward Matt Peterson notching his fourth personal with 1:17 left in the third quarter, the Lancers hardly missed a beat.
“We identified their shooters,” said Liberatore, who started his Lancers playing man-to-man defense, then switched to a match-up 2-3 zone. Rockland solved neither, shooting 2-for-11 in the first quarter, scoring just four points, shooting 3-for-12 during the third quarter in a feeble attempt to recover, facing an 18-point (47-29) deficit entering the final eight minutes. And the Bulldogs’ leading scorer, junior forward Steve Norris was limited to one field goal.
“It’s something (zone defense) that we feel comfortable doing, we don’t have too much size,” added Liberatore, the positioning also affording Norton good position for rebounds, Rockland being unable to generate many second chance opportunities, save for senior forward Ian MacDonald scoring eight of his 19 points (and 12 rebounds) during the fourth quarter.
The Lancers hit five of eight shots from the floor in the third quarter, with senior guard Joe O’Malley hitting a trey as well.
O’Neil shredded the Bulldogs’ trapping defenses during the fourth quarter, scoring 11 points as the Lancers connected on nine of 11 chances at the charity stripe in the final eight minutes.
“Everytime that they would get it to 12 or 13 (54-42 with 2:25 left), Murphy or O’Neil would hit a big shot and the crowd was fantastic, that was a great atmosphere,” said Liberatore. “I can’t say enough about the seniors, nobody expected to do what they have done – we want to keep it going. They enjoy being around each other and they’re so unselfish – that’s why they don’t shoot, they’re looking for their teammates for a better shot.”