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Recap: No. 6 Stoughton 73, No. 9 KP 69

WRENTHAM, Mass. -- John Gallivan remembers the first time his star point guard was in a situation like this.

The Stoughton head coach recalled two years ago when a young Aaron Calixte, at the time a freshman, went to the line needing to make one crucial free throw. Calixte promptly clanked the shot, and the Black Knights went on to lose a close one.

"I think he basically said to himself, 'That's never going to happen again'," Gallivan said.

And it hasn't. The electric 5-foot-11 junior point guard put on an offensive clinic in the first half, but was attacked for shooting fouls repeatedly by the fourth quarter. But in going 8-of-12 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter, he kept the No. 6 Black Knights just enough ahead to hold off No. 9 King Philip, 73-69, in a thrilling atmosphere at the Warriors' gymnasium.

"It feels good, really good," said Calixte, who finished with 29 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. "We came to their home court, they had a crazy home crowd and we shut them up. We just did good, we played well."

Between KP's prized 6-foot-8 Maryland signee Jake Layman, and Calixte -- who has started to garner interest from Division 1 schools, including an offer from Towson -- this game had some considerable hype coming into it. And the billing did not disappoint, with both stars carrying their teams for stretches of this one. Calixte had 19 points by the half and several swift dishes, while Layman finished the night with 30 points and 13 rebounds.

KP (9-2) cut the Stoughton (10-1) lead to 60-56 with under three minutes to go in the contest, but the Black Knights seized control with some heads-up play on the break. First, Marcus Middleton (20 points) drew a shooting foul and sank both free throws; the next trip down, Steffan Jackson (seven points, seven rebounds) cut backdoor for a quick layup.

On the ensuing KP possession, Stoughton's Antonio Ferreira came up with a steal near midcourt, drove to the lane and delivered a behind-the-back pass to Calixte, who was taken down hard but nailed both free throws to make it a 66-58 game.

Stoughton increased its lead to 10 with under a minute to go, but the Warriors got off two quick three-pointers from Sam McDonald to make it 71-66. But Calixte hit two more free throws to ice it.

The Knights led 44-36 at the half, but just 53-52 after three quarters.

"Middleton and Calixte were tremendous tonight," said KP coach Sean McInnis. "I think they went 27 of 33 from the free throw line. Tough to beat a team like that."

Marking Layman: The key matchup tonight was how the Black Knights, who don't dress a player over 6-foot-2, were going to defend against the 6-foot-8 Layman, a returning ESPN Boston Super Teamer who has single-handedly toyed with teams at times so far this season.

The task was given first to Middleton, the team's best on-ball defender, who at 5-foot-10 gives up nearly a foot to the nation's No. 61 overall player. Reminded of this, Gallivan cracked, "It's only a foot."

Yes, Layman got his buckets, leading all scorers on the night. But Middleton covered him from end line to end line, digging his chest into the big man's midsection, keeping his hands and hips active, and generally making him labor on any movement into the painted areas.

When it wasn't Middleton pressing on Layman, Gallivan left the duties to Jackson, with Calixte rotating in with some help defense.

"Marcus is just an animal defensively," Gallivan said. "He covers everybody's best player, so why should we switch it? And the other guys helped Marcus. You can't chin Layman and expect to box him out at the same time, so the other kids helped him, kept him off the boards a few times."

McInnis conceded that Layman "worked for every point that he had."

"He's such a tremendous defender," McInnis said of Middleton. "John does such a great job with them on defense, he preaches defense, and that's exactly what we saw tonight. Middleton was tremendous on Jake, took away some of his inside game on Jake, and what happened to us is that it too Jake out of the flow of the game, where it was tough to get Jake inside because he was fighting so hard to get down there. He exhausted a lot of energy to do that."

Switch to zone hushes Warriors: In the second half, Stoughton switched to a unique 2-3 zone defense that gave the Warriors some trouble. Gallivan would surmise later that "You throw it all against the wall and you see what sticks," but this was certainly a package he'll keep in his binder.

Installed just two days prior to tonight's game, the Black Knights' zone was tight for the most part, cutting off diagonal lanes through the zone, forcing ball reversals around the perimeter and long lobs over the top to the opposite sidelines. Against the zone, the Warriors went through stretches where they settled for circumventing rather than penetrating, and it showed on the stat sheet -- KP was just 11 for 32 from the field in the second half, with seven of the baskets coming from three-point range.

Layman's buzzer-beating three to end the third quarter fired up the home crowd, as he flexed to the student section. But against the zone, those moments were too few in between.

"I think we started to feel comfortable taking those shots," McInnis said. "We felt as though the zone was open in the middle, but I think our guys saw that first look at the three and took that shot...I think some came in the flow, and some were shots that we're gonna work on in our shot selection. I think that we forced a couple up -- we took some on the first pass that we could have had two or three passes later."