Needing a win in order to qualify for the postseason, the Stoughton High boys' basketball team looked well on its way following a strong first half of play at Walpole Monday night. The Black Knights shot 53.3 percent (16 for 30), holding a 38-26 lead after two quarters in the finals of the Walpole Hoop Classic.
Walpole, meanwhile, shot just 34.5 percent (10 for 29) in the first half, as Stoughton twice led by as many as 16-points.
The second half featured a complete reversal, however, with Walpole heating up, shooting 60 percent (15 for 25), in addition to making 16 of 19 second half free throw attempts. Stoughton went cold, shooting 22.2 percent (8 for 36), and as a result, its first half double-digit lead turned in to a double-digit loss, 76-64, by game's end.
The loss ends Stoughton's season. The Black Knights (9-11) needed to finish with a .500 record or better in order to make the state tournament. This is the first time Stoughton has missed the postseason since the 2005-2006 season.
Walpole finishes the regular season 13-7.
Monday's game was an eerily similar result to the Oliver Ames game Friday night, where Stoughton also saw a double-digit lead evaporate due to a cold second half of shooting. That loss on Stoughton's senior night dropped the Black Knights to 8-10. Stoughton then beat Boston Latin on Sunday in the opening game of the Walpole Hoop Classic to keep its postseason hopes alive.
"It's symptomatic of a problem that we just didn't have enough time to fix tonight," Stoughton coach John Gallivan said of his team's second half shooting woes. "That's certainly not something we addressed in there now [the locker room after the Walpole game]. Now is kind of say goodbye to the seniors and thank everyone for their hard work, but it's disappointing and we'll all think about it and we'll all remember it."
"It's a tough one to swallow," Gallivan added.
Two three-pointers from Mauro Oliveira helped push the Stoughton lead from 14-12 to double digits in the second quarter. A Joe Bunce-Grenon dunk made it a 34-18 game with 2:40 left in the first half. After Walpole scored, a two-pointer from Joey Wilder gave Stoughton a 16-point lead again, 36-20, with 1:40 left. Walpole closed the half on a 6-2 run, but Stoughton still led by 12 at the half.
In the third quarter, Walpole outscored Stoughton 20-4. A Johnny Adams three-pointer cut the Stoughton lead to just two, 41-39, with three minutes left in the third. A Ryan Fogarty jumper tied the game at 41 Walpole's next offensive possession. Adam Quinlan gave Walpole the lead for good, 43-41, with 2:10 left in the third.
Walpole took a 46-42 lead into the fourth and extended the lead to as much as 15 points, 65-50, in the final quarter.
An Oliveira three-pointer and a Bunce-Grenon steal and layup cut the deficit to 65-55 with 2:15 left to play, but that was as close as Stoughton could get.
Oliveira led Stoughton with 21 points and 9 rebounds; Wilder had 8 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals; Bunce-Grenon had 6 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals; and Eddie Grant added 6 points.
Marcus Middleton had 18 points and was named to the Walpole Hoop Classic All-Star team. .
Along with senior captains Middleton, Oliveira and Bunce-Grenon, Stoughton will also lose seniors Grant, Andrew Valle, Matt Mack and Aaron Mack to graduation.
"A lot of these guys have been in the program for four years and some of them have been varsity players for four years or three years. We just told them [in the locker room] that are were part of one of the best four year windows that this school has had for boys' basketball so we want them to be proud of that and take that with them and think of themselves as Stoughton basketball players for life and come back and work with the team," Gallivan said.
This four year run includes last year's Division 2 South Sectional championship and trip to the TD Garden for the Division 2 Eastern Massachusetts Final. Stoughton lost some key players from that squad - including senior forwards Antonio "Nuke" Ferreira, Steffan Jackson and Raymond Bowdre and leading scorer Aaron Calixte - a once in a decade type of player, Gallivan said - who transferred to prep school. Still, Stoughton remained in postseason contention this year until the last game of the season.
"This was obviously a tough season because it was a transition season. We were missing some huge pieces from last year and these guys were trying valiantly to pickup the pieces and duplicate the scoring and rebounding," Gallivan said.
"It was very hard for them because everyone talked about if Stoughton is going to get back to the Garden, if Stoughton is going to defend their sectional championship - no high school team is a defending champ because it's not like you have everybody back. You miss four seniors and a kid who goes to prep school so these guys had that hanging over their heads all year and battled throughout."
Gallivan continued, "They had some quality wins. We did very well in our Division - we swept Sharon, we swept Foxborough, we swept Canton, and then we had some games that got away from us. So it's one of those years; it's frustrating. Coaches are lucky - they get to come back. The seniors are done and that's sad, so we feel for them."