WORCESTER — The ABA basketball league kicked off Saturday night at Worcester State, with the Worcester 78s running the New England Outtatowners off the court in the second half, cruising to a 140-106 victory.
The 78s are still building off their inaugural 13-4 campaign last year, with a guard heavy lineup that predicates defense, and ball hawking traps, to help create their offense in transition.
“Everything we do defensively is to get the ball back on offense, defense is what we do well,” said second year coach Anthony Leonelli. “Speeding up their guards and getting traps was really beneficial for us tonight — to up the tempo of the game.”
Up Tempo Play
Both teams came out Saturday pushing the tempo up and down the court, as Worcester had their hands full with New England’s Tim Murray, who scored all 21 of his points in the first half, knocking down six shots from behind the arc.
“(Murray) is a very good shooter, we had a scouting situation where we had to make him bounce (put ball on the floor),” said Leonelli. “We zoned out on it a couple of times, but once we corrected it, the (defense) was pretty good.”
Tony Gallo (32 points, 4 assists, 4 steals) got the 78s going defensively after Murray hit a three at the top of the key to put the Outtaowners up 24-20 with just under five minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Gallo sacrificed his body in order to take two charges underneath the hoop, on consecutive defensive stops, before getting his team in transition — finishing a left-handed layup on the break while being fouled to put his team up for good with 1:48 left in the first quarter, 28-27.
“The defense turned the game around for us, we missed some shots in the first-half, but we came together (defensively) in the second half,” Gallo said following the win.
The 78s let Murray and New England hang around in the first half despite a 34-27 lead after the first quarter. Murray opened the second quarter with a three from the top of the key, while Gallo finished off a back door cut from Jose Cruz Jr. (8 points, 11 rebounds) to keep Worcester up 40-32 with 8:05 left in the first half.
Gallo and fellow guards Scott Tavarez-Taylor (6 points, 5 rebounds), Dimitri Floras (14 points, 4 assists) and Lee Vazquez (23 points, 2 steals) along with Worcester’s Naadir Tharpe (15 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals) all began to pressure the ball on the Outtatowners, helping Worcester get into their transition game, as the guard quintet pressured the perimeter to eliminate the dribble-drive kick outs to Murray from behind the arc.
Gallo added a steal and layup in transition to put Worcester up 43-34 with 7:11 left in the first half, while forward Maurice Horton (Worcester, Worcester State) who added 10 points and 4 rebounds on the night, forced a turnover and finished on the offensively end to make it a 45-37 game for the 78s.
“Our guards are tough, and we have a lot of them,” Gallo said. “(Floras) was playing overseas in South America averaging thirty points a game and (Tavarez-Taylor) is our heart and soul of our team, when he’s on the floor, he’s led our team in minutes and games played.”
Vazquez (23 points) knocked down a three from the corner, as Worcester swung the ball around the perimeter before finding Vazquez, who put the 78s up 50-40 with 1:21 left in the half.
Second Half Blowout
New England cut the lead to 53-47 at the break however the second half was all Worcester.
“Shooting the ball [well] in the second half, that’s who we are,” said Coach Leonelli. “Once we found our range, we were really in good shape.”
The 78s opened the second half forcing traps in the backcourt while getting stops on the defensive end. Forcing a shot clock violation in the opening minutes, got Worcester rolling on the defensive end. Tharpe added a three from the wing in transition, as did Gallo, to put Worcester up 65-51 with 8:06 left in the third quarter.
Floras added a steal on the press before finishing with a layup, and Gallo answered with a long three to make it 75-58.
Gallo then added another three from the top of the key that was kissed off the glass for a 78-60 Worcester advantage.
The 78s then added a Vazquez steal and layup for Horton on a breakaway, before Gallo scored off a dribble drive with the perimeter spread, to make it an 82-60 game with 5:01 remaining in the third quarter.
Worcester closed out the third with a flurry of steals and layups as Vazquez hit an acrobatic put-back at the buzzer, following a Daivon Edwards miss, to put Worcester up 99-76 after three quarters of play.
Worcester kept the heat on to start the fourth, as Tharpe knocked down a three to start things off, before Sam Longwell (18 points) got into the shooting spree knocking down a pair of threes and finishing off a break in transition with a layup to put Worcester up 109-81. The 78s went on to cruise the rest of the way for the 34-point victory.
“We want to keep coming and it’s not that we want to be a jerk or anything, this (ABA) league has national rankings so margin of victory is important,” Leonelli said. “We never want to take a possession off, we want to extend where ever we can.”
The Worcester 78s travel on November 11, to Queens, New York to take on the Elite Kingz.