Wednesday, March 2, 2011
LaFrancis steps up, leads A-B past Andover
By Brendan Hall
ACTON, Mass. -- Twenty-four hours before his Acton-Boxborough squad was set to host Andover in a first-round battle between two Division 1 North sleepers, Colonials head coach Rick Kilpatrick had some sound advice for his 6-foot-6 junior center. Namely, with at least a three-inch height advantage over anyone else on the floor, he was going to have to step up and dominate.
Suffice it to say, with the Golden Warriors doing everything they could to shut down star guard Sam Longwell, Kevin LaFrancis seized the moment. He turned in arguably his best performance of the season, with 21 points and 16 rebounds, as the Colonials held off a furious Andover rally to win going away, 68-54, in this D1 North first round game.
The No. 6 seed Colonials (19-3) move on to the quarterfinals, where they will visit No. 3 Lynn English (20-2) at a date to be determined. English knocked off Everett tonight, 68-57.
"We did a really good job of getting the ball inside to Kevin," Kilpatrick said. "We work on post feeds every day. We knew we were going to have a size advantage in this game, and I thought our guys responded, took care of the ball and got it to him."
Asked what his reaction would have been had he been told before the game that they'd win going away, with star guard Sam Longwell (eight) bottled up most of the night, LaFrancis smiled and took it in stride.
"I would have said Wes [Schroll] had 42 points," he laughed, referring to the Colonials' other dynamic playmaker who finished with 18 points and six boards. "No but, they focused their gameplan on Sam, so when they do that, other guys have got to step up. And I think Wes and I did that tonight. Dana Flood came up with some big three's. We all just came together."
Trailing 14-13 after one quarter of play, the Colonials outscored the Warriors 20-6 over the next stanza to take a 13-point halftime lead, aided by back-to-back three-pointers by Longwell and Joey Flannery (10 points).
But the biggest facet keying the run was unquestionably their ability to deliver seamless entry passes to the paint. On some possessions, it was LaFrancis moving out to the wing and hitting a player right on his hands as he came off a screen. Other times, LaFrancis merely backed down his defender in the post, diverting attention in the Warriors' 2-3 zone or simply going up with it to draw contact.
The Colonials also helped their first-half cause on the glass, outrebounding the Warriors 21-9 -- including eight from LaFrancis.
"We were just getting every rebound," LaFrancis said. "Our guards did a great job boxing out. I think we had five on the glass, and they weren't making their shots. That was the key to our run.
Indeed, it was a miserable first half for Andover star Joe Bramanti (26 points), to say the least -- the Merrimack Valley Conference MVP went a pedestrian 2 for 9 from the field in the first 16 minutes. But a player with Bramanti's talents doesn't stay cold forever.
The 6-foot-3 senior exploded for 13 points, hitting 4 of 5 from the field, nailing all five of his free throws, and throwing down one monster one-handed running dunk that put the Andover supporters on their feet. Bramanti's resurgence, along with a series of turnovers caused with various presses -- 1-3-1, 1-2-2 and man the most prevalent -- eventually cut A-B's lead to five at several points early in the fourth quarter.
All this, in spite of many of its players in foul trouble -- especially James Costello, who sat with three in the first half before fouling out, and sophomore Sam Dowden, who faced similar struggles.
"I just told the kids, if you're going to go out like that, after playing 20 games against the perennial powers of Massachusetts, that's a sad way to go out," head coach Dave Fazio said. "You know, it's a sad way to go out. We didn't even swing the bat in the first half. And then in the second half...as always, these kids are warriors. They fought, they kept coming back...I'm proud of the fact my kids didn't roll over in the second half. I knew they wouldn't, I just didn't know if we'd have enough legs."
Bramanti's two free throws cut the Colonials' lead to 51-46 with 5:30 to go, but that was as close as the Warriors would reach. With time running out, they resorted to a slew of errant long-range perimeter shots, which A-B players rebounded and took a foul to go to the line.
Bramanti put the exclamation point on his revamped scoring touch with the most electric play of the night. From halfway down the paint from the free throw line, the hard-charging senior -- sometimes nicknamed "The Bull" -- lifted off and dunked the ball home with authority, letting out a war cry and flexing his arms to the crowd. While it only cut the lead to 41-29 in the third, it proved a pivotal point in momentum for Andover as it mounted a comeback.
And once again, it goes to show the 6-foot-3 all-everything's potential has at the next level. Bramanti has drawn interest from Division 1 schools such as The Citadel and Dartmouth, while a handful of Northeast-10 schools are also recruiting his services.
"He's gonna be a great college player, there's no doubt about that," Fazio said. "This is going to sting him for a while. But the sky's the limit, and as a coach you want to win a state title, do all the great things, but more importantly you want to do right by the kids. And that kid has gone from a boy to a man in four years at Andover High School, and all in all that's probably the most important thing."
Brendan Hall is a High School Editor for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.