Entering the second half with a seven-point advantage, Norton extended its lead by connecting on five-of-seven shots from the field and six-of-eight attempts from the stripe, which helped the Lancers go onto defeat Hopkinton, 62-48.
“I thought in the third quarter we made three quick baskets when [Hopkinton] was pressing, and all of a sudden seven [points] went to 14, and it was a whole different game,” said Norton head coach Marc Liberatore.
“I think we talked about being a little more patient [during halftime], and when they pressed, [we made] the right pass to the open guy, and we made shots, too.”
James Loring, Chris Huff and Dan Rafuse all scored baskets once the third quarter commenced, while Paul Murphy (eight points) provided two assists during the Lancers 7-0 run.
Hopkinton struggled to keep pace during the third frame and finished the session with four points, which were provided by George Thissell (12 points).
The Hillers attempted to rally during the opening minutes of the fourth, but various fouls by Andrew McMillan, Rolly Muench and Brendan Wolfe provided the Lancers with an easy opportunity to seal the win at the free throw line.
“We played our game, we played our pace and didn’t let them run us down,” said Murphy.
“I just think we played all around a good game. We stepped up as a team, we focused, and we listened to our point guard who drove us through it,” said Loring, who finished the contest with 12 points.
Hopkinton and Norton traded baskets during the first eight minutes before the Lancers capitalized on numerous missed shots by the Hillers in the second, which helped them pull away for good.
Loring and Rafuse sank back-to-back trifectas to begin the second, while the Lancers defense stifled their opponent’s offense, which finished the frame 4-of-13 from the field and 0-for-3 from beyond the arc.
“We just [had] to keep hands active, get tips, and get every loose ball,” Murphy said of the Lancers defense.
Norton’s 32-25 lead at the break transformed into 49-29 after three quarter thanks to a 17-point effort by the offense, as well as buckets from Huff, Rafuse and Steele.
“[Loring] was huge,” said a smiling Liberatore. “I don’t know how many blocks he finished with, but he had a lot of blocks.”
Loring and Rafuse each finished with 12 points, while Zach Ruby added nine.
Norton is now 5-0, 4-0 in the Tri-Valley League, and certainly seems optimistic about their path ahead.
“We won the league last year, but to comeback as defending champs and start 5-0, I think that sends a message that we’re not going away too easily,” said Liberatore.
“One game at a time,” said Murphy. “One game at a time. Respect will build up after every win, and every win gets more respect.”