TOWNSEND -- North Middlesex (2-2) bounded out to a 12-0 lead just three minutes into the game, and it never looked back as it defeated border rival Groton-Dunstable (0-4), 58-43, inside an overflowing Arthur Bartlett Memorial Gymnasium.
Senior captain Tyler Thomas posted a double-double for the Patriots, finishing with a game-high 19 points and 12 rebounds. Thomas netted 11 of his points in the first half.
"We started out early and I think the pressure got to them," North Middlesex head coach Erik Dellasanta said of the first-quarter flurry. "The press came off and we had to switch it up man-to-man. Once we got out of that transition scoring, we had to find our rhythm in the half-court sets. It took us a bit to do that. We took a little too much shooting instead of taking it to the basket. Once we adjusted, our offense got better."
Coming into Thursday night's clash, Dellasanta knew that his seniors needed to come to play against a gritty, tough Crusaders side -- and they did in a big way.
"For us tonight, we just needed some leadership from our seniors," Erik Dellasanta said. "It's a great Groton team who has great guards, including Scotty Csaplar. They work hard on the inside and Greg (Gillette) has them very disciplined. That's a well coached team over there. We talked about some game goals and making plays. Tyler (Thomas) made a bunch of huge plays out there for us."
Sophomore captain Corey Romich led the visitors from Groton-Dunstable with a team-high 11 points and three steals. Scott Csaplar finished the game with eight points and nine rebounds for the Crusaders.
"They played really well in the second quarter," first-year head coach Greg Gillette said of his team. "The slow starts have been an Achille's heel for us. They have to work so hard to dig their way out of it. It takes a lot of energy to get out of it. Eventually, you pay for it somewhere down the line. We just kind of ran out of gas. Our offensive execution is improving, but I thought it would come a little bit quicker."
Groton-Dunstable was able to bring the game back within two points at the half, when Csaplar knocked down a jumper off a brilliant pass from freshman forward Gavin Keough to make it, 31-29, in favor of North Middlesex.
North Middlesex and Groton-Dunstable were knotted at 31-31 early in the second half after a Bobby Flanagan layup, but the tie game would be short-lived. Thomas fired an ally-oop to Bobby Larsen, who laid down the hammer with a one-handed tomahawk slam, 33-31. North Middlesex closed the third quarter on an 7-0 run, highlighted by a Richie Sharp three from the left baseline. The Patriots held a 45-37 lead going into the final quarter. Senior Lucas Ravanis provided the three-point dagger with 1:51 remaining in the game to extend the Patriots' lead to 51-41.
"He was awesome," Gillette said of Thomas. "He was a focal point for us to stop, and we just didn't do it. We did the best we could on him. He just kind of fills up the stat-sheet before you know it. He was probably the difference-maker in the game tonight