The upset was there to be had, but in the end, the boys basketball team just could not finish.
With an eight-point fourth quarter lead, the seventh-seeded Tigers controlled their destiny. But Newton North hit a cold streak allowing No. 1 Mansfield to gain the upper hand, and eventually, take the 48-46 victory in the Div. 1 South Sectional final last night at the TD Garden in Boston.
“I’m devastated,” said Newton North head coach Paul Connolly. “We were so close. We battled all-year long. We’ve come together. We made some big plays in the game. We stretched the lead a little bit and then we stopped scoring.”
With the defeat, the Tigers' season ends at 19-7. The Hornets, meanwhile, improve to 24-2 and advance to the state semi-final where they will play St. John’s Prep.
Both teams suffered playoff jitters to begin as the game remained scoreless for nearly two minutes until Mansfield's Christopher Johnson netted a pair of free throws. Moments later, Hornet Michael Lofton drained a jumper followed by a basket in the paint propelling Mansfield to an 8-3 lead.
In the second period, Mansfield extended its lead to 17-9 before a Luke Westman three-pointer ignited a 13-0 run for the Tigers. The surge was capped off when senior Tevin Falzon (14 points, 15 rebounds) scored in the paint. Newton North would end the first half with the 24-19 advantage.
The jitters returned to start the third quarter as the two teams did not score for nearly three minutes until Lofton banked a shot in, cutting the deficit to 24-21. The slow start was an omen to a low-scoring period, but the Tigers managed to go to the fourth with the 31-27 lead.
There, Newton North’s Michael Thorpe (11 points) scored seven straight points finishing with a three from the right wing. That augmented the Tigers lead to 38-30.
But after Tevin Falzon netted a pair of free throws making the score 42-34, the Hornets went on an 8-0 run to tie the game.
“We didn’t make the adjustments to their double teams,” said Connolly.
To end Mansfield’s streak, Westman drove the baseline and hit the layup giving the Tigers the lead again, 44-42. But Lofton scored a basket on a second-chance attempt and then had an emphatic dunk after a Newton North turnover putting the Hornets up 46-44 with less than a minute left.
With 17 seconds remaining, Tevin Falzon was fouled sending him to the free throw line. Under pressure, he netted both shots tying the game.
The Tigers’ season ended on the next play, though, as Lofton drew the extra defender in the paint and passed to Johnson, who scored the game-winning basket.
“My guys have given me everything,” said Connolly. “They have given me absolutely everything all-year long. I couldn’t be any prouder of the group. To win a game in the tournament is a great year. We won three games in the tournament. We got to the Sectional final. They have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Check out our photo gallery of last night's game in the image section above.