TAUNTON, Mass. -- Granted, Mansfield allowed nearly 23 points more than its season defensive average (49.5) in Friday night’s Hockomock League Kelly-Rex Division game against Taunton.
But, ironically, zone defense proved to be a key as the No. 15 Hornets pulled away in the fourth quarter and stung the No. 19 Tigers, 82-73.
Among other things, Mansfield (6-0, 7-0) scored 13 points off 11 Taunton turnovers in the second half.
“I thought our defense in the beginning was very lackluster,” said Mansfield coach Mike Vaughn. “That’s a really good Taunton team that puts you in really bad positions. They do such a good job with space that I told my guys this is the first team we’re going to defend that really spreads out people.
“It shortens up my bench a little bit because I don’t have guys that can defend that same space. For us it was a matter of trying to stick with it and getting guys to compete.”
Tightening the screws: To say Mansfield “competed” on defense in the fourth quarter would be a massive understatement because the Hornets outscored the Tigers (4-2, 6-2) by an impressive 21-5 margin and held them to zero points in the last 2:14.
“I think with their team speed, initially I tried to adjust to it,” said Vaughn. “Then when we moved Michael (Boen) over and we made a few adjustments defensively I was very happy with the way we played in the fourth.
“For the first time I thought we competed on the defensive end for longer periods … getting up in passing lanes and doing all those things.”
Taunton coach Charlie Dacey wasn’t inclined to disagree with Vaughn’s assessment of Mansfield’s prowess on defense.
“We still had our chances,” said Dacey, whose team led 68-61 after three quarters. “I thought they turned it up about 10 degrees. And we had those three turnovers -- bang, bang, bang -- and that was the game right there.
“I sensed that their intensity got ramped up a little bit and we just didn’t handle that slightly high level of intensity.”
The trio of turnovers that Dacey referred to came at the start of the last period and fueled a 9-0 run that helped Mansfield grab a 70-68 lead.
Ryan Boulter, the Hockomock League’s leading scorer, notched six of his overall game-high 27 points during this run.
Boen almost matched Boulter with 26 points, while Nick Baskin chipped in with 16.
Taunton also placed three players in double figures: Cory Green (21), Jessy Machado (14) and Tom MacLean (11).
Tigers roared early: Much of the first half was all Taunton as the Tigers led 26-17 after the first period due in large part to a part of 3-point baskets by Machado.
But Mansfield countered with a 19-9 run which produced a 36-35 lead with 2:40 left in the half.
Green sent Taunton into the halftime break with a 45-43 lead when he drilled a jumper with one tick of the clock remaining.
“At the beginning we weren’t ready for that speed and that competitive level and that talented team,” said Vaughan. “When we settled down and Michael and Boulter, talk about what they did in the second half . . . that’s a very dominating performance they had in the second half.”
Boulter, for example, scored 17 points in the final 16 minutes while Boen added a dozen.
“At one point, (Boulter) kind of demanded the ball in the post and he made a couple of plays,” said Vaughan. “But we got down almost 10 in the second half. I know he looked at his teammates and said ‘Give me the ball.’
“You can’t talk enough about the work he did there and the work that Michael did.”
Boulter jump-started Mansfield in the third quarter by pouring in 12 points, including a classic back-door layup which resembled something out of former Princeton coach Pete Carril’s playbook.
Boen emulated Boulter in the fourth quarter when he scored eight points, including a conventional three-point play with exactly one minute remaining that gave Mansfield a 78-73 lead.
“That’s a very good Taunton team,” said Vaughan. “I scouted them twice and they’re quicker and they run their sets better than I even anticipated. In the first half, I think it took us awhile to adjust to it.”
In retrospect, that’s exactly what Mansfield did.