After shooting 51.4 percent (18 for 35) in the first half of Friday's game against Oliver Ames, the Stoughton High boys' basketball team shot just 21.4 percent (9 for 42) in the third and fourth quarters as an eight point Stoughton lead at halftime turned into a seven point Oliver Ames win by game's end, spoiling Stoughton's senior night.
With the 77-70 win, the Tigers improve to 10-6, clinching a spot in the postseason state tournament. The Black Knights, meanwhile, fall to 8-10, needing to win both of their final two games to make the playoffs.
Marcus Middleton, who entered the game 34 points from joining Stoughton's 1,000 point club, led the Black Knights, turning in a career-high 30 points, falling just short of the milestone.
"Marcus is a gamer. He wanted that game. He played hard for 32 minutes; he never came out of the game. He was cramping up; he was drinking pickle juice to take the cramps away. I don't think [getting 1,000 points] crossed his mind one bit," Stoughton coach John Gallivan said.
"Now his teammates know how close he is; he knows how close he is. We know it's going to happen. It would have been great to happen tonight but another way to look at it is let's have it happen on a night we're going to win the game."
This game had all the drama of the classic Stoughton/Oliver Ames clashes; and Middleton's chase for 1,000 only added to the excitement. But, by coming up just short of picking up win number nine on the season, Stoughton has its back up against the wall heading into the Walpole Tournament Sunday and Monday.
Stoughton's game against Boston Latin on Sunday is a must-win.
"Now there's no safety net and if that doesn't motivate you, I don't know what will," Gallivan said.
Gallivan said Stoughton is going to have to create its own spark in Walpole, playing on a neutral court with the season on the line.
"This place was electric [Friday against Oliver Ames]. Sellout crowd; senor night; bitter rivalry - it's not going to be like that with two teams who have never seen each other before at Walpole High. You have to provide that spark yourself," Gallivan said. "Maybe elimination - the threat of it - provides that spark."
After two quarters against the Tigers, the Black Knights looked to be in good position to pick up the win.
Stoughton took a 43-35 lead at the half Friday night, outscoring Oliver Ames 9-0 in the final minute of the second quarter. Four quick points extended the Black Knights lead to 12 about a minute into the third.
But Oliver Ames responded with an 18-0 run over the next five minutes, which included a pair of big three-pointers from Ryan Carney and another from Andrew Reardon, to give the Tigers a 53-47 lead with 2:20 left in the third.
Stoughton fought back, tying the game at 56 at the end of the third on a deep three-pointer from Marcus Middleton at the buzzer.
A Middleton three from the corner at the start of the fourth gave the Black Knights a 59-56 lead, but about 1:30 later a three pointer from Nick Cidado tied the game at 61 with 6:10 remaining.
With the game tied at 65 after two free throws from Joey Wilder, Chris Duggan hit two free throws with 3:41 left to give the Tigers the lead for good. Duggan hit four free throws in all in the fourth quarter.
From there, St. Clair Ryan carried the Tigers over the final three minutes of action. The senior captain scored six points in a two minute stretch to extend the Oliver Ames lead to 73-68 with 50 seconds to play.
"He's one of the handful of best competitors I've ever coached," Oliver Ames coach Don Byron said of Ryan. "And he's a great guy to have on your side in games like this."
Stoughton got as close as three points, trailing 73-70 with 41.7 seconds left, after a two-pointer from Eddie Grant, but Stoughton couldn't get its shot attempts to fall and Cidado and Carney hit their free throws down the stretch, giving the Tigers a seven point win.
Oliver Ames hit 13 free throws in 18 attempts in just the second half of Friday's game. Oliver Ames shot 11 for 25 (44 percent) as a team in the third and fourth quarters, compared to Stoughton's 21.4 percent on 42 shots, which was enough to allow the Tigers to erase the eight point halftime deficit.
After a high-scoring first half, Gallivan said it "came down to which team was going to buckle down and play better defense."
"They went to the zone and in the beginning we hit shots against it but in the second half we cooled off," Gallivan said. "I thought we did a pretty good job moving the ball; I thought we did a pretty good job getting open looks and sometimes the ball just doesn't go in and that was really the difference."
Carney led Oliver Ames with 23 points; Reardon had 18; Ryan had 13 and Cidado had 12. Brandon Welch added 7 and Duggan had 4.
In addition to his game-high 30 points, Middleton grabbed 10 rebounds. Mauro Oliveira finished with 14 points; Joe Bunce-Grenon had 8 points and 11 rebounds; Grant had 4 points; and Matt Mack added 2 points.
Wilder had 12 points and 9 rebounds, including 8 points during a second quarter he dominated.
Prior to the start of the game, Stoughton honored senior players Middleton, Bunce-Grenon, Oliveira, Grant, Andrew Valle and Aaron and Matt Mack; team manager Josh Brown, a senior; and senior cheerleaders Michelle Bisbee and Nicole Kerman.
Stoughton plays Boston Latin in the opening game of the Walpole Tournament Sunday at 6 p.m. at Walpole High.
"We're glad we have a chance to keep playing, keeping advancing. We just have to win this game and see what happens after that," Gallivan said.
Senior night photos will be posted in a separate photo gallery, posted later on Saturday.