WORCESTER— The Worcester 78’s (11-4), smothered the New England Outtatowners in the second quarter and ran away with a convincing 154-106 victory on Saturday night to go along with a seven-game winning streak.
After holding a 41-35 lead after the first quarter, the 78’s full-court trap and ball pressure allowed Worcester to go on a 26-10 run and take a 73-53 lead at the break. During the run, the Outtatowners were held scoreless for almost four minutes, which is considered an eternity within ABA league play.
“That’s when we are at our best,” said 78’s guard Tony Gallo, “it starts on defense. The second quarter was huge for us — we needed it, since we started off slow.”
Worcester trailed 18-15 in the first quarter, when Scotty Tavares-Taylor gathered a tough offensive rebound and found Gallo (28 points) on the wing for a three-pointer.
“I always had a nose for the ball, and I try to give every ounce of energy I have when I am on the court,” Tavares-Taylor said. “If I see a loose ball, I go for it everytime.”
Tavares-Taylor (11 points) then got a steal out of a trap at midcourt and raced to the hoop for a layup, while adding a tough layup on a drive to the rim on Worcester’s next possession to give the 78’s a 24-19 lead.
“(Tavares-Taylor) is such a positive energy (player) for us, (he) really helps us out there,” said Worcester 78’s head coach Anthony Leonelli.
Worcester’s Sam Longwell (22 points) would knock down a catch-and-shoot three in transition, off a pass from Tavares-Taylor. Then Jose Cruz Jr. with a season-high (15 points) finished with a dunk underneath, off a feed from Mo Horton, to give the 78’s a 31-27 lead.
“Tonight, is the way we want to play,” said Gallo. “Everyone touched the ball, everyone got their shots, everyone got some assists, and everyone rebounded — it was a total team effort.”
Tavares-Taylor would add a high floater, and Dmitri Floras (21 points) knocked down a three-pointer in the corner. Horton added a bucket from underneath, and Flores finished off the first quarter with a pair of free-throws for a 41-35 advantage after the first quarter.
Worcester opened the second quarter on a 14-5 run, as Floras closed the run with a beautiful left-handed finish to give the 78’s a 55-39 lead with 7:03 left in the half.
“(Floras) shot the hell out of the ball, and when he steps up and does that — we got a lot of people you got to cover,” Leonelli said.
Worcester, again pressured the ball along the perimeter, and went on a 15-3 run, as Tavares-Taylor scored on a drive along the baseline, and Gallo knocked down a three-pointer from the top of the key after garnering a tough offensive rebound.
“(If) you’ve seen our squad — we got a lot of ammo,” said Tavares-Taylor. “Everyone can score the basketball.”
Newly-signed guard Kwame Thompson (24 points) then finished off a tough layup and Floras gathered an offensive rebound before knocking down a three-ball from the wing to give the
78’s a 70-49 lead with 2:57 left in the first half.
“We talked at halftime about not becoming complacent, and then we let them cut it to (9) points — which was not great,” Leonelli said.
Despite holding a 73-53 lead at the break, the New England Outtatowners cut it to 81-72 after Xaviar Cruz knocked down a corner three-ball and a floater in the lane with 6:27 left in the third quarter.
Gallo would answer with a three-ball of his own in the corner, as Worcester would go on a 24-2 run, culminated with a dunk by Cruz Jr. and a pair of three-pointers by Gallo and Thompson.
Floras would connect on a pair of free-throws to give the 78’s a comfortable 105-74 lead with 2:52 left in the third quarter.
A Floras three-ball from the wing gave Worcester a 113-85 lead after three quarters, while Sean McCarthy’s (12 points) following a hook in the lane to open the fourth quarter gave the 78’s seven players registering double-figures in scoring.
“It’s a reflection of our guys who have bought in [to our team concept],” Leonelli said. “We got guys who put the team first and it’s really fun to watch.”
Cruz Jr. closed out the highlight reel with a dunk, plus the foul, knocking down the free-throw for a 129-100 Worcester advantage with 7:19 remaining, as the 78’s cruised to the 154-108 win.
“We made adjustments as a team, we figured out our roles — it’s about getting better and getting ready for the playoffs,” Gallo said.
The 78’s close out their regular schedule with two more home games, as the tough Western Mass. Zombies come to town on February 23rd and the New England Outtatowners return for a make-up game on March 2nd.
“We got three more, and Western Mass. has beaten us twice — they’re a really good team,” Leonelli said. “I was glad we could put it away tonight.”