Attention fans of the Martha’s Vineyard boys’ varsity basketball team: Watching the team’s state tournament run can cause hypertension, hoarseness of voice and excessive nail-biting; please consult your cardiologist before attending another Vineyarders game.
After clawing back from a 19-point deficit at halftime last week to beat Norton, this week’s tournament opener saw the Vineyarders taking the opposite route to victory, watching what seemed a comfortable 10-point half-time lead evaporate in the third quarter before holding on, just barely, to scrape out a nerve-wracking 76-70 win over Norwell.
The Vineyard moves on to face Wareham at home today in the third round of the MIAA south division 3 state sectionals (after a first round bye) but not before a serious scare from the second lowest seeded team in the tourney.
“I don’t care what the seed is, you’re in the tournament and your team is not going to let up,” said Vineyard coach Mike Joyce after the game. “You give them a little opening and they’ll take advantage, and they did.”
The first quarter might as well have been a Vineyard skills showcase mix tape. Del Araujo kicked off the proceedings with two quick threes while Randall Jette and Peter Keaney did their best Lebron-Wade impression on a half court alley-oop hookup. Jette provided an encore to the spectacular play with another three pointer, a quick steal off of the inbounds pass and a thunderous two-handed slam dunk that brought the packed crowd to its feet. It looked as if it was going to be a leisurely evening on the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School court late in the first quarter when Keaney began to hit his stride, pouring in jump shots from his favorite spot at the top of the key. The Vineyard went into the break up 10, 23-13 and the second quarter began much the same, with Jette spotting up and draining two wide-open threes and Keaney continuing to perfect the 18-foot jumper. If it’s conventional wisdom that you can’t dribble through a zone, someone forgot to tell Jette who slashed and burned his way through the Norwell defense for 28 points on Wednesday.
The Vineyard led by as many as 15 in the second quarter but in an indication of things to come, Norwell forward Nick Volpe began to come alive in the closing moments of the half, crashing the boards on both ends and hitting every open shot afforded him, bringing the Clippers to within 10 at halftime, down 44-34.
A spinning lay-in by Norwell’s Dave Regan to start the second half narrowed the lead to single digits for the first time since the opening minutes of the game. Three quick Norwell threes off Vineyard turnovers, including two by Volpe, and a low-post power lay-up by the Norwell forward tied the game at 48 while the Vineyard was still rousing from its post-halftime daze.
“We started out great but our intensity lapsed a bit in that third quarter,” said Coach Joyce. “We really just got complacent; I think they thought ‘hey, we got it,’ and they just let up a little bit.”
The crowd went silent as Norwell knocked down a jumper with just over two minutes in the quarter to take over what seemed an insurmountable lead from the Vineyarders. The third quarter concluded with a flurry of lead changes, five in all, before settling at a deadlocked 56-56 tie heading into the final frame.
The lead continued to switch hands before Jette began to will his way through the Norwell defense while Peter Keaney and Del Araujo did everything they could on the glass and on defense to secure the Vineyard lead.
“The second half of the fourth quarter, the guys really just buckled down defensively and made big free throws when they had to,” said Mr. Joyce, who found it difficult handing out a game ball to any one player.
“Randall definitely played a great game offensively, but Del and Ben [Ciciora] really made their guys work for every point and even though [Norwell’s Nick Volpe] had 30, he worked pretty hard for those 30. Del and Ben both busted their butts in this game,” he said.
Volpe would hit two more quick threes with just under three minutes remaining, and after a full court inbounds pass that landed in the waiting arms of a Norwell guard for an easy lay-up the Clippers were suddenly within two points, but after a key Keaney jump shot and a questionable intentional foul call against Norwell, (Jette would hit both free throws), the Vineyarders were up six with less than a minute to play. Four killer Keaney free throws later the Clippers pushed the ball down court with Dave Regan hitting a runner to bring them within six but it was too late as the remaining time ran off the clock and a collective exhale came from the crowd.
“If we play 32 minutes of concerted effort then I think we can hang with anyone,” an exhausted Coach Joyce said after the game. “But it’s got to be 32 minutes; we’re struggling with that concept.”
While the Vineyard fans are catching their breath, the team must plug on. Today they face Wareham at home; game time is 5:15 p.m. at the regional high school.
It’s a team they split the regular season series with 1-1.
“We’ll drink water tonight, rest tonight, practice tomorrow,” Mr. Joyce said on Wednesday. “We’ve got two days, Friday we go again.”