TAUNTON, Mass. –- Mansfield sophomore Brendan Hill may not be your ideal point forward, one you would most expect with the ball in his hands for the majority of any given game.
But if you ask the 6-foot-5 Hill, he’s more than suitable to fill the role.
That much was evident Tuesday night as the Hornets (7-1), led by a game-high 24 points from Hill, eked out a difficult Hockomock League road win at Taunton and handed the previously undefeated Tigers (6-1) their first loss of the season.
“The ball is kind of in my hands more,” Hill said. “I like that; I can make plays for other people, score if I can. Just try to take my guy off of all our shooters, and it seems to be working.”
It was actually clearly working, especially in the fourth quarter. Hill scored seven of his 24 points in the frame, and as Mansfield’s floor general, put the game in his own hands to put away the Tigers.
After a 7-0 Hornets run made it 54-47, Taunton answered with a quick 4-0 run of its own to cut the deficit to three with 3:39 left in regulation. But the Hornets answered that with a 6-0 run of their own that gave the visitors firm control, aided by the strong play of Hill. After a jumper from teammate Kevin Conner, Hill took the ball down the floor on the ensuing possession, drew a foul, and sunk a pair of foul shots.
Then, on the Tigers’ ensuing possession, on an inbounds play under their own basket, Hill, guarding the inbounder, stole his pass, took it the other way, and ultimately found a wide-open Kyle Wisnieski for a lay-up that gave Mansfield a commanding 60-51 advantage with 2:10 left and forced Taunton coach Charlie Dacey to call a timeout.
The Tigers furiously rallied and cut the deficit to three with 17.4 seconds left after back-to-back 3-pointers from Corey Green and Fawaz Mass, but the Hornets ultimately made enough free throws to prevail.
“That’s a very good Taunton team, all the picks that have them as a sleeper in Division 1, I agree with it 100 percent,” Mansfield coach Mike Vaughan said. “That’s a very good basketball team and we’re fortunate to get out of here.
“I think that was probably the difference in the game, is that we strung three stops together and three baskets together and created enough separation that when they threw their last punch at us, we were able to absorb it.”
A concise offense: One thing Vaughan was disappointed about from Dec. 28's loss to New Mission was his team’s inability to move the ball on offense.
In that game, he said the offense went about in three passes or less before firing up a shot, which added up as one ingredient to the team’s loss. On Tuesday, however, the Hornets offense played anything but that style, going through a pass-heavy scheme and finding better shots, which worked to their advantage.
Since the Mission game, Vaughn said he’s spent most of practice time drilling in the idea of deeper possessions and running that kind of pass-heavy offense.
“Tonight we got into six, seven, eight passes on a possession, which for any team to play that way is very difficult to play for that many passes,” Vaughan said. “The guys are really starting to buy in to the idea that the same guys are going to get the same opportunities to score, but we’ve gotta get into those deeper possessions.”
While Vaughan has tried to get his team in better sync on offense, he was also telling his guys, specifically junior guard Ryan DeAndrade, to not be afraid to take a shot here or there.
DeAndrade -- while making a number of plays Tuesday finding his teammates for baskets -- took his coach’s advice and poured in 16 points, playing aggressively when opportunites were there for the taking.
“Coach has always been saying don't be so passive,” DeAndrade said. “Look around for your teammates but if the shot is there you need to take it, so I looked for my shot a little more tonight.”
Breathing by the 3: While some detest the moniker “Live and die by the 3,” Vaughan embraces it.
“It’s who we are,” he said. “We’ve gotta shoot them to keep people honest.”
The 3-pointers weren’t dropping Tuesday for the Hornets with the same regularity that they have this season, though. They finished with just four makes from downtown, something Vaughan credited to Taunton’s swarming defense.
“I don’t remember one uncontested shot,” Vaughan said. “I mean there were a couple of times we penetrated and pitched, we’re pulling the trigger and there’s a kid that’s flying from a block who’s getting there because their athleticism and length allows them to do that.”
The 3-pointers Mansfield did make, however, came at crucial junctures. Sophomore forward Ryan Boulter, with his team trailing in the final minute of the third quarter, made back-to-back 3’s to give the Hornets the lead and momentum heading into the final quarter.
Then, as part of Mansfield’s 7-0 run in the fourth, sophomore forward Michael Boen made a 3-pointer from the top of the key, which helped the Hornets gain much-needed separation from the Tigers in the closing minutes.
In the end, DeAndrade and Hill agreed that they have to trust their teammates to hit those shots, no matter how much they’re slumping.
“It’s very important, because this team right here is one of the best shooting teams,” DeAndrade said. “These guys, they know how to shoot, and they’ll keep shooting if you give them the ball, so I trust these guys more than anything. They’re really good shooters.
“They know that if they’re not hitting a shot, the next one they’re gonna shoot they’re gonna hit it,” Hill said. “They have that shooter’s mentality and I think that’s really important.”