If coach Michael Joyce’s varsity boys’ basketball team hopes to make any noise in the state tournament in the coming weeks it will likely come down to which team shows up: The one that went into halftime against Norton on Wednesday with their tails between their legs down 38-19, or the second half team whose stifling press and relentless intensity on offense earned them a thrilling 70-61 victory in their last game of the regular season.
It must have been some half-time speech.
“I just challenged them,” Mr. Joyce said after the game. “I said, ‘Look, this is your last home game of the season, we’ve got the biggest crowd you’ve had this year, what do you want to show them? You want to show them that? Do you want them to come and watch a playoff game if you’re going to do that?’ ”
Unable in the first half to penetrate a stifling Norton zone defense that gave up only seven points in the entire second quarter, the Vineyard came out of the locker room possessed, ripping off eight points in under a minute to start the second half. After a little over two minutes, the Vineyard had cut the lead to just seven points with a smothering full court press that found Norton utterly flat-footed. After a quick Norton offensive foul off an inbound pass, the flustered team called time-out and a hibernating home crowd awoke from its slumber.
Senior Randall Jette led the attack, pouring in 30 points for the Vineyarders by slashing through the Norton zone, while junior Peter Keaney’s pickpocket defense and sharpshooting earned him 21 points. A Jette lay-in with a little over two minutes left in the third quarter gave the Vineyard their first lead since the beginning of the game and the crowd erupted. Although Norton refused to go away, the shell-shocked squad was unable to overcome the psychological blow of giving up the lead, and in such spectacular fashion. With Jette hitting his fifth gear in the fourth quarter the Vineyard never looked back. A T.J. VanGervan putback on a Jette miss put the Vineyard up 10 with just under two minutes on the clock and all but sealed the victory. Mr. Joyce attributed the remarkable turn in fortune to one factor.
“It’s just intensity,” he said. “We just came out so flat. When we press and we’re flat we give up layups and that’s exactly what we did. In the first half no one was rebounding, no one was hustling, it was gross. Then in the second half they came out and played the way I know they’re capable of.”
The Vineyard ends the season 17-3, tied with Medway for the best record in the MIAA south division 3, earning them a home berth next week in the state sectional tournament and either a first or second seed. Seedings and schedules will be announced later today. To Mr. Joyce, though, winning the Eastern Athletic Conference earlier this year was an accomplishment not to be overlooked. Two hard-fought games late in the season against rivals Bishop Stang and Bishop Feehan, with whom the Vineyard shared the conference title last year, left the Vineyard alone atop the conference.
“Those games with Feehan and Stang were so competitive and it’s just such a tough league,” the coach said. “I mean, look at it, three teams — Feehan, Stang and us — are all going to be seeded in the top 10 in the state tournament, so to go through that league undefeated it’s pretty remarkable I think.”
In his eighth year of coaching it’s Mr. Joyce’s best record, but it has also been one of his more enjoyable coaching jobs.
“Certainly I think it’s the most balanced and deep team we have and the group of kids is hilarious so that makes it more entertaining,” he said.
Heading into the tournament the Vineyard faces a difficult road, one that may lead them back to familiar conference foes. For Mr. Joyce the last game of the season against Norton could serve as a valuable teaching tool as the Vineyard sets its sights on larger goals.
“Hopefully with that second half the team realizes what we’re capable of,” he said. “If we can play like that we can play with anyone. If we play the way we did in the first half we could lose to anyone, so it’s a lesson learned I hope.”