From the opening tip-off to the final buzzer, there was little doubt concerning which team was stronger during Norton’s showdown with Canton in the first round of the MIAA Division 3 South tournament.
Still recovering from their preliminary match against Abington from earlier in the week, the 12th seeded Bulldogs struggled against No. 5 Norton as the Lancers walked away with a convincing 55-39 win.
Starting the game on an 8-2 run, the Lancers were able to find penetration into the low post to quickly build a double digit lead that would exist for most of the game.
During the third quarter, a small run by the Bulldogs cut the lead to eight before the Lancers were able to take a 14-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Foul Trouble Halts Rafuse
Despite 12 points in the first half, the Norton senior was forced to sit out most of the second half after picking up his fourth foul early in the third quarter. With 10 points in the first quarter alone, Rafuse helped the Lances put the Bulldogs away early in the game as Canton struggled to defend what Norton head coach Marc Liberatore called their best all-around player.
Loring Rules the Paint
When not attempting the open shot, Canton’s efforts to drive to the basket were made difficult by the presence of the 6’6 James Loring under the basket. Blocking five shots, the junior made provided quality defensive play for the Lancer by redirecting Canton shots and taking away high percentage baskets.
“They (Canton) were trying to dribble, penetrate and he helped bother a lot of shots,” Liberatore said. “That helps because they certainty got down in the lane a little bit but he’s there to challenge and alter shots.”
Loring finished the game with 13 points and seven rebounds.
Ruby Steps Up
With Dan Rafuse (16 points) picking in foul trouble, it was senior Zach Ruby (13 points) who stepped up after the Lancers were forced to take Rafuse out of the game.
Ruby responded with five points in the third quarter and a stellar defensive effort against Canton’s Sam Larson.
“He (Ruby) was probably at a disadvantage speed wise but he really made up for it,” Liberatore said.
After scoring 15 points through the first two quarters, Larson was limited to only five points in the second half, all from the free throw line.
Emotions Drain Canton
After hitting 10 of 16 shots from beyond the three point line in their preliminary round game against Abington, the Bulldogs struggle to produce similar results, only making 14 baskets, three of which were from beyond the arch.
"We were emotionally exhausted right in the first four minutes. Coming off of Monday’s game we were battle tested, very emotionally draining game,” said Canton head coach Ryan Gordy.
Only Matt Kelley (13 points) and Sam Larson (20 points) were able to reach double digits as the Lancers pressured Canton near the three point line and open shots simply couldn’t find their way into the basket.
“We just missed a lot to be honest. We had shots that I was happy with, the shots that were falling for us on Monday weren't falling for us tonight. We only had two guys in double figures, in a state tournament game that’s not gonna cut it,” Gordy said.
Next up For Norton: New Team, Same Name
The Lancers will continue tournament play on March 1 when they face the Bulldogs again, but this time it will be the Rockland Bulldogs. The fourth seeded team beat Westwood 62-47 to advance to the quarterfinals. Leading by three late in the third, the Bulldogs put away the Wolverines in the fourth quarter to earn a 15 point win. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at Rockland High School.