TOWNSEND — Marlboro entered Tuesday’s boys’ basketball game with the reputation of being one of the best teams in the state, and the Panthers sure did live up to that billing.
Marlboro used a little bit of everything — outside shooting, transition basketball and power in the paint — to double up North Middlesex, 70-35, in Midland B action.
The Panthers improve to 13-4 (10-1) with the victory and are in the driver’s seat for a league title. North Middlesex (6-10, 3-8) must win its remaining four games to reach the postseason.
“We called it at the beginning of the season that it would come down to the wire,” North Middlesex head coach Justin Maly said.
“We’ve got Tyngsboro, St. Bernard’s, Algonquin and Nashoba. We’ve got them thinking that we can beat anybody, that’s how you have to go into it, especially for the seniors.”
The Panthers were up by double digits after the first quarter, but really pulled away for good in the second. Marlboro shot 9 of 22 from the floor, including 5 of 7 from beyond the arc, in the second stanza, outscoring North Middlesex 24-9 to put the game out of reach by halftime.
The visitors’ defense was up to the task, too, in the second quarter, forcing the Patriots into seven turnovers and holding them to 3-of-14 shooting. Neither team could get anything going in the first couple minutes of the game, but then Marlboro went on its first big run.
Spurred by a transition bucket from Joe Tirpak, a turnaround jumper in the post from big man Chris Doherty, a nice feed down low to Liam Shanahan, and a trey in the corner from Brian Short (17 points), the Panthers jumped up 9-0 with 3:26 left in the opening quarter.
North Middlesex took a timeout, which seemed to kick-start the offense. Richie Sharp hit Keegan Sharp down low with a perfect pass to break the drought with 3:10 left in the quarter. On the next possession, Ryan MacDonald made a nice cut to the basket, which trimmed the lead to 9-4.
But Marlboro’s shooting was too much, as the Panthers closed out the quarter on a 10-3 spurt to make it 19-7 at the first break.
The Patriots hung around for the first three minutes of the second quarter, as Michael Farren (16 points) split a free throw trip, and then Richie Sharp drained a 3-pointer from the elbow, which sustained the gap at 24-11.
Then mighty Marlboro exploded on an 11-0 run over the next four minutes. Connor McCabe started the run with a trey, and after a put-back, a mid-range jumper, a leaner and free throw, Short ended the surge with a 3-pointer to make it 38-11 with 1:30 left in the half.
After four minutes of silence, Farren got down the floor quick after the Short make and popped a 3-pointer to snap the streak.
A momentum shift would not come, though, as Marlboro hit two treys in the final 30 seconds to take a commanding 45-16 lead into the locker room.
“We knew after playing Marlboro earlier in the year that it was more than just their bigs,” Maly said.
“Their guards can dish off to the post or do it themselves in transition or the half-court sets.”
Marlboro rested many of its key players in the second half, but still grew the lead, as an 8-0 run at the end of the third had the visitors ahead 62-24 at the final break.
North Middlesex shot just 3 of 9 for the quarter, committing six more turnovers. Richie Sharp and Farren each buried treys to soften the blow.
The Patriots need to be perfect to close out the season, and it is not going to be easy, to say the least.
“We called it at the beginning of the season that it would come down to the wire,” Maly said. “We’ve got Tyngsboro, St. Bernard’s, Algonquin and Nashoba. We’ve got them thinking that we can beat anybody, that’s how you have to go into it, especially for the seniors.”