Smith trims Tribe, takes over first
HATFIELD — Smith Academy made a statement to the rest of the WMass Division IV boys’ basketball field on Monday night.
Fueled by a 45-19 first-half performance, the Falcons withstood a flurry by Turners Falls High School in the fourth quarter to take a 73-62 Hampshire League victory at Sherry Webb Gymnasium.
At the beginning of the day on Monday, the Hampshire League had three teams tied at the top as Turners Falls, Smith Academy and Mahar Regional School each sat at 11-2 in the division. The Falcons took care of the Indians, and with Greenfield High School’s win over Mahar, Smith Academy now sits alone in first place. The game was even more important to Falcons’ coach Matt Zerneri because the Indians had beaten Smith Academy, 69-62, on Jan. 7, and the two teams could see each other for a third time in the WMass Division IV tournament.
“We not only wanted to make a statement, but Turners Falls is in Division IV, too,” the coach explained. “We take pride in trying to go undefeated at home and we wanted revenge over them. Plus, we figure that the winner tonight will have a good chance at the two seed in the tournament.”
The Falcons (15-3 overall, 12-2 HL) came out like a team possessed, dominating the Indians (14-4, 11-3) throughout the first half on both ends of the floor. Falcon guard Derek McMahon scored 12 of his game-high 23 points in the opening quarter, and the Falcons raced out to a 24-11 lead. The score could have been worse had it not been for the hot shooting hand of Indian forward Malcolm Smith, who channeled his inner guard and knocked down three 3-pointers to account for nine of the Indians’ 11 points.
Aside from Smith, the Falcons’ defense managed to bottle up the rest of what can be a dangerous Turners Falls offense. Leading scorer Liam Ellis had just 4 points in the first half and 6 through three quarters before knocking down 10 points in the fourth quarter to finish with 16. The Falcons’ offense thrived off the defensive pressure, scoring 12 points in the opening quarter off the fast break, following either an Indian turnover or a rebound and quick transition.
“Our offense thrives off our defense,” Zerneri said. “We get stops or we rebound, and we push the ball. I think that’s when our offense is at its best.”
The Falcons took the 45-19 lead into the break, and while the Indians’ offense woke up a bit late in the third quarter, it still looked like the Falcons were in firm control. The lead was pushed to 51-24 with 5:00 left in the third quarter and remained at 57-34 at the end of the frame.
The fourth quarter saw the Indians finally come to life and what had been a fairly quiet gymnasium suddenly got loud as the crowd, fueled by the Indians’ comeback, got into the game. Part of the resurgence came as the Indians began using a full-court press, forcing the Falcons into numerous turnovers, and making the hosts look uncomfortable with the ball for the first time all night. The Indians offense responded to the momentum from the press, and knocked down six 3-pointers as part of a 28-point fourth-quarter output. A 3-pointer by Melvin Moreno with 1:32 remaining pulled Turners Falls to within eight points (70-62), but David Longstreeth (11 points) scored on a putback with 1:10 left to quiet the Indians, and a pair of turnovers by the visitors sealed the Smith Academy victory.
Keith Natale finished with 13 points for the Falcons. Christian Smiarowski dumped in 8.
Moreno, who had no points at halftime, hit six second-half 3-pointers and finished with 17. Smith added 17 points, Ellis netted 16.
Smith Academy hosts Mahar Regional School on Thursday at 7, while Turners Falls gets back to work Thursday night at home against Frontier Regional School.