WORCESTER— The Worcester 78’s climbed back over the .500 mark as they slowed down the Oneonta Octane enough to hold onto a 127-117 victory at Worcester State University on Saturday night.
Worcester improved to (5-4) on the season behind veteran forward Mo Horton’s 22 points and 22 rebounds and the guard combo of Tony Gallo (16 points) and Lee Vazquez (23 points).
“Our guards do what we ask them to do, and they are really good at it,” said Worcester head coach Anthony Leonelli. “And if we aren’t rebounding from the post position, they’ll get it done from the guard position.”
In the first quarter Gallo followed up his own jumper for a put back to give Worcester a 22-15 advantage and then found
Domonique Bull underneath after gathering an offensive rebound to put the 78’s up 26-20.
The 78’s finished up the first quarter with a slight 28-27 advantage, however.
“I’ll go and do the other things that is necessary to win,” Gallo said, “and that’s what it’s all about — it’s about winning.”
Worcester trailed at intermission, despite taking a 49-46 lead when Vasquez knocked down a three from the corner with 5:37 remaining.
Dimitri Floras (10 points) gave the 78’s a seven-point advantage at 56-49 with his corner three-ball with just over two minutes left in the half, before Oneonta would shift the momentum.
The Octane would answer with a 18-5 run to close out the half as Matt Baldwin would knock down a three-pointer from the corner as time expired to give Oneonta a 67-61 lead at the break.
“We need to have everyone understand their roles,” Gallo said. “We can’t have everyone trying to score 20, that’s what we were
doing earlier (in the game) and then we cleaned it up.”
Horton’s presence in the frontcourt was the biggest difference, as the Worcester forward dominated the boards and ‘cleaned’ the glass on both ends for the 78’s in the second half.
Horton started off the third quarter gathering three offensive rebounds during one 78’s possession; finishing off a put back, plus the foul, to help Worcester cut the lead to 70-63 with 10:17 left in the third quarter.
“(Horton)’s rebounding was huge, he got three [offensive] rebounds in a row, multiple times,” Gallo said. “We need those second chance points.”
Horton would then finish off a pass from Sam Longwell (19 points) to cut the Octane lead to 76-75, before Naadir Tharpe (13 points) finished an acrobatic lay-up to put Worcester back ahead 92-90, in the waning seconds of the third.
The 78’s would still only hold a slim 93-92 advantage after three quarters of play.
Horton started the fourth quarter with a plus one drive, converting an acrobatic lay-up of his own and the free-throw to put
Worcester up 96-94, just 28 seconds into the fourth quarter.
“Horton has a huge heart and he absolutely lifted us in the second half when we were struggling,” Leonelli said.
After the Horton three-point play, the 78’s would go on a 25-13 run to give themselves a 121-107 advantage, as Gallo converted on a lay-up on a drive and Bull would add a put-back on a rebound for the 14-point lead.
Horton would close out the scoring with a rebound and follow, before finishing a lay-up from a pass from Tharpe in the final seconds for the 127-117 victory over the Octane.
After the game, Coach Leonelli voiced his frustration at the officiating and the lack of calls his players received, verse the undermanned Octane team that dressed only eight players on Saturday night.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Oneonta, they play very hard and they are very good, but we are officiated differently than any team in this league and its getting exhausting,” Leonelli said.
Leonelli’s smaller guards and the pounding they have been taking while going to the rim seem to be the biggest concern for Coach Leonelli going forward, as the 78’s Lee Vasquez has already missed time this season due to an injury, and center Jose Cruz Jr. was missing from the starting lineup on Saturday.
“Gallo is so good, and it’s easy for him to get frustrated because he’s been getting mugged on the way to the rim — he’s such a courageous player, it’s unbelievable,” Leonelli said.
Worcester now have three of their next four games at home, and need to win out in order to get back to the top of the ABA standings.
“We needed this win, and we need to hold court the rest of the way,” Leonelli said.