SHREWSBURY -- Believe it or not, the North Middlesex Patriots (7-10) still have a shot at the postseason following their 72-64 road win over Shrewsbury. The Patriots' door to the playoffs remains open after an incredible performance from junior guard Tyler Thomas (game-high 24 points, five rebounds and four steals).
Thomas was whistled for a technical foul with less than four minutes left, which allowed the Colonials to gain some momentum.
Patriots' captain Francis Philips (17 points) buried a clutch three-point bomb with under three minutes left to stymie Shrewsbury's mini run. North Middlesex has proven to be a grind-it-out team the entire season, and head coach Erik Dellasanta is very proud of his team's never-say-die attitude.
"We put ourselves in a negative slide, and it turned it around," said Dellasanta. "We said, 'Okay even though we made some mental errors, we're going to find a way to win.' Francis (Philips) hit a couple of clutch shots in the corner. Thomas is confident and ready to make plays. I was glad to see him play well."
North Middlesex started the first quarter on a brief 4-0 run, with back-to-back hoops from Philips and Marc Rossi. Shrewsbury battled back with a mini-run of their own when Jeff Svendsen canned back-to-back three-point missiles to give the Colonials a 6-4 lead with 4:20 remaining in the quarter.
Thomas stripped the ball from Shrewsbury's Tim McCauley and drove the length of the floor for a transition layup to tie the game. The Patriots closed the quarter on a 7-0 run, capped off by a textbook jab-step three-pointer from atop the key by Thomas to push North Middlesex's lead to 17-8 at quarter's end.
The play started to pick up in the second quarter, as the Colonials showed glimmers of success. Svendsen continued to have the hot hand for Shrewsbury as he cannoned a three-pointer from the left elbow a minute into the quarter. Svendsen's three-pointer was the start of the Colonials' 8-0 run.
Svendsen knocked down another three-point basket from the corner, and Kevin Ackerson's layup tied the game at 19-19 with 5:10 remaining in the half. North Middlesex sophomore forward Drew Patno (10 points, four rebounds) dropped a three-point projectile through the cylinder from the top of the key 10 seconds later to reclaim the Pats' lead.
North Middlesex kept the Colonials on their heels defensively, as Philips hammered home a three from the right elbow to make it 28-23. Patno knocked down a three-pointer just before halftime off a bounce pass from Philips to give the Pats' a 36-27 lead at the half. Scoring in the second quarter was even at 19-19.
The Colonials dropped 18 points in the third quarter, and managed to cut the Patriots' lead to three after a pullup jumper from Joey Vitols. Vitols spotted up from about 10 feet, and flushed his shot with 6:28 remaining to cut the Pats' lead to 36-33. Shrewsbury continued to trade buckets with the Patriots, but North Middlesex started to catch fire from the field as the quarter pressed on.
Philips inbounded the ball under the hoop with five seconds left after Ackerson knocked home both free-throws. Philips' pass connected with Ryan Deluca (nine points, seven rebounds) on the right block, and he scored as time expired to give the Patriots their largest lead of the night.
Late in the fourth quarter, a technical foul was called on Thomas after he said something the official didn't agree with. Mike Coggeshall knocked home both free-throws, and the Colonials scored on their next possession, cutting the Patriots' lead to 61-59.
North Middlesex did not fold, and Philips launched a three-pointer in front of his own bench off a dime from Thomas to extend their lead to 64-50 with 2:30 left.
Philips scored on the Patriots next two trips down the floor and the Colonials were forced to foul. It was too little too late as North Middlesex's hope for the postseason lives on.
"We need to win one at a time," said Dellasanta. "We are playing hard and competitively -- that's how we are supposed to play this game. We are scratching and clawing."