Leading 32-28 with 3:42 left in the third quarter following two Aaron Calixte free throws, the didn’t score again until there was 3:59 left in the fourth when Calixte hit a three-pointer—a span of 7:43, nearly a full quarter.
Calixte’s three brought Stoughton within three, trailing Brighton 38-35, but Brighton had taken control of the game during this stretch and the Black Knights couldn’t come up with consecutive stops on defense in the final minutes, in a MIAA Division 2 State semifinal game Monday night at the TD Garden.
Stoughton, the D2 South champion, ends arguably the best season in program history at 20-5, one game shy of playing for the D2 state title. Stoughton beat , , and to reach the Garden.
Meanwhile, Brighton (21-3), the D2 North champion, advances to play the winner of Tuesday’s game between St. Bernard’s and Mahar for the state championship on March 17.
“It’s a sad group right now. They’ve played an amazing season, one of the best in the school’s history. They’ve gone deeper than any boys’ team ever has. We’re really proud of them,” Stoughton coach John Gallivan said following the game. “As you can imagine they’re distraught right now…they all want to get here, but no one expects to go home [losing] here.”
Stoughton had trouble rebounding and scoring in the paint against a Brighton team with a clear size advantage.
Stoughton was outrebounded 35-23. Brighton had 17 offensive rebounds, which led to 17 second-chance (or third-chance) points for the Bengals.
“They’re awfully big and we didn’t do a great job boxing out and we can’t do that against a team that’s that long and aggressive,” Gallivan said. “A lot of times we made the first stop, but they would get the put-backs and they just wear you down after a while—they’re a tough team.
“We just offensively didn’t have the answer tonight and I think that’s more of a credit to the kind of defense they play.”
Stoughton jumped out to an early 16-7 lead thanks to an alley-oop dunk from Antonio Ferreira and two NBA-range three-pointers from Mauro Oliveira. But Brighton closed the first quarter on a 6-0 run to cut its deficit to 16-13.
The Bengals tied the game at 22 on a Daivon Edwards three-pointer with 2:30 left in the half, and briefly took the lead, 26-24, on a bucket from Prince Unaegbu with 35 seconds left, but Ferreira tied the game just before the halftime buzzer. Joey Wilder fed Ferreira with a long pass and the senior finished with a thunderous dunk.
Stoughton started the third on a mini 6-2 run, but then went the equivalent of a full quarter without scoring.
Trailing 36-32 with 6:34 left in the fourth, senior Steffan Jackson went down, injuring the same left ankle he hurt in early February. Jackson had to be helped off the court, unable to put any pressure on his left foot, and was taken to the hospital after the game.
“I’m not a doctor but when they use words like ‘snap’ or ‘crack’ it doesn’t sound good,” Gallivan said.
The coach said losing Jackson hurt, but Brighton was already starting to pull away at that point.
“If rebounding is your big issue—and it was—[losing Jackson] hurts,” Gallivan said. “[But], it seemed like a trend had kind of been established there. Not that the game was over but they were sort of moving in the right direction; we were sort of moving in the wrong [direction]. We could never get two stops in a row with two scores in a row the whole game.
Theo Oribharbor answered Calixte’s three on the other end of the court to give Brighton a 41-35 lead. The Bengals extended that to 45-36 with 2:25 to play, before Oliveira hit a three to make it a two-possession game again with 1:51 left.
But Edwards’ three with 1:20 left put Brighton back up by nine, 48-39, and effectively cemented the victory.
Calitxe led Stoughton with 17 points; Oliveira and Ferreira each had 9; Marcus Middleton added 4; Jackson finished with 2 points and Joe Bunce-Grenon had 1.
Malik James (11), Edwards (11) and Oribharbor (10) led Brighton in scoring.
Stoughton’s team bus was met by a cruiser at the Turnpike St. Dunkin Donuts near Page St., which escorted the Black Knights back to . Assistant Coach Stephen Goulston arranged for the escort. As the bus pulled into the school’s parking lot, family and fans started honking their horns and cheering for the team.
One of the keys to success this season for Stoughton was the transition Ferreira made from bench player in his junior year to absolute force his senior year, able to dunk and grab rebounds at will.
“He was a kid who couldn’t get in the game as a junior and really grew emotionally so he was ready to play, and physically so he got stronger. He had some dominant performances this year,” Gallivan said.
“We wouldn’t have been there without any of these guys,” Gallivan continued. “You take one of them out like you saw when Steffan got hurt with three weeks to go in the season and we’re a different team. We got him back and we were a much better team.
“Without Marcus’ defense we’re not here; without Aaron’s everything we’re not here; without Mauro Oliveira we’re not here. You take any of those guys out of the mix and that’s what it was—a team—and right now they’re grieving as a team, as they should. They wanted the season to go on forever.”