TOWNSEND -- There is no better feeling for a team than winning a game and leaving no doubt about the outcome from the opening tip until the final whistle. On Friday night, the North Middlesex boys' basketball team never let doubt creep into anyone's minds in securing a must-win game. The Patriots never trailed, grabbing a double-digit lead after a quarter of play and cruising to a 58-47 non-league victory over Groton-Dunstable.
"This was the most complete team effort that we have put together this season and it came in a game that we absolutely needed," said North Middlesex coach Erik Dellasanta. "Coming off a tough OT loss to Gardner, I was a little concerned about how we would bounce back, but we got off to such a great start that any doubt was erased right away. I am just so proud of the kids and pleased with their effort. It was a great win."
While there were a number of stars on the night, none shined brighter than Tyler Thomas. The junior point guard put together a near perfect game, scoring 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting to go with eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals, while running the Patriots offense efficiently and playing strong defense.
"Tyler had a great game tonight and did a little bit of everything for us," said Dellasanta. "He played hard and has been a catalyst for us all season. We also got great efforts from Sam Heller in the post and Bobby Larsen off the bench. It seemed like everyone who set foot on the floor tonight gave us their best effort which is all you can ask for as a coach.
Facing a triangle-and-two defense to open, North Middlesex wasted little time picking it apart and riding the hot hand of Mark Rossi. Finding an open spot on the wing, Rossi knocked down a trio of three-pointers in the game's first two minutes to put the Patriots up 9-2 early on.
The lead was cut to four at 9-5, but North Middlesex responded by closing the opening quarter on a 12-4 run. Thomas got things rolling with a free throw and steal and lay-up while Francis Phillips closed things out, knocking down a trey off a Thomas feed in the final seconds to give the Patriots a 21-9 advantage.
A Matt Conlin three-pointer off a Corey Romich feed drew the Crusaders to within nine early in the second quarter, but North Middlesex responded with eight consecutive points. Thomas was in the middle of it all, setting up a Larsen three-pointer before hitting a lay-up and knocking down a trey of his own to make it a 17-point game at 29-12 before the Patriots settled for a 15-point led at 36-21 heading into the locker rooms.
It was a tale of two teams over the game's first 16 minutes as North Middlesex was extremely efficient on offense. The Patriots connected on 14-of-29 shots from the field while only committing four turnovers. On the other side, Groton-Dunstable hit on just six of their 27 attempts from the field, with Matt Conlin leading the way with nine first half points.
During the third quarter, the lead never dipped below 14 as it seemed every time the Crusaders had something going, North Middlesex answered with a couple of quick baskets. Thomas kept the Patriots in front, scoring nine points in the quarter while Romich scored four to pace the Crusaders as it was a 52-33 game with eight minutes to play.
Groton-Dunstable finally put together a stretch of solid play, closing the game on a 14-6 run, but it was too little, too late. Drew Moore was the catalyst, coming off the bench to score six points and add two assists, but the deficit was too much to overcome. Despite scoring just one point over the last five minutes, North Middlesex eased their way to the victory, moving to 6-7 on the season while the Crusaders fell to 4-10.
"Drew gave us some good minutes off the bench after being away due to illness," said Groton-Dunstable coach Keith Woods. "We just did not do enough things well enough to win tonight. Our shooting was poor and we didn't execute well. You can't play like that this late in the season and expect to win."
Along with Thomas' big night, Larsen had a solid night for the Patriots with 10 points, four rebounds and two blocked shots. Rossi finished with nine points. Heller contributed eight points and five boards while Phillips chipped in five points and six assists.
Conlin led the Crusaders with 13 points and four rebounds. Romich finished with 12 points, six boards and five assists. Moore added 11 points, nine rebounds and three assists while Charles Hill scored seven points.
North Middlesex is in the middle of a three-game homestand. The Patriots host Mid-Wach A foe, Algonquin to Bartlett Gymnasium at 7 p.m. Groton-Dunstable hosts St. Bernards at home tomorrow at 7 p.m.