WORCESTER— The Worcester 78’s finished off a successful weekend by winning both ends of a back-to-back to improve to (6-4) overall. The two wins pushed the team into the bottom of the ABA Power Rankings at #25.
After Saturday’s 127-117 victory over the Oneonta Octane, the 78’s defeated the New England Outtatowners on Sunday night in Somerville, 118-116.
“It was a strange game, the back end of a back-to-back — we had to exert a little bit down the stretch [to ensure the win],” said Worcester head coach Anthony Leonelli. “We came out with a little more urgency than the night before — we gutted out as much as a 23-point lead [at one point].”
Worcester guard Tony Gallo redeemed himself from a poor shooting night on Saturday verse Oneonta to lead his team in scoring with 33 points. Guard Kamahl Walker returned to the 78’s lineup to add a critical 18 points and help his team hold on in the second half.
Walker opened the second half with a coast-to-coast drive and finish and followed that play with a drive and plus one after a Mark Cornelius steal on the defensive end. Walker then had a finish at the rim off a give-and-go with Worcester forward Mo Horton (15 points), before knocking down a three-pointer at the top of the key off another steal by Cornelius in the backcourt.
“We got pretty good ball pressure in the half court —(and) and when we’re good is when we are sharing [the ball], and part of that is on me,” said Leonelli. “But it’s always good to see Cornelius and Jose Cruz Jr. on the floor and they can be opportunistic.”
In the third quarter Cruz Jr. finished off a pick-and-roll with Gallo to give Worcester a 69-54 advantage.
“Sunday night we really got a really good effort out of Cruz Jr. on the boards, (Gallo) shot the ball well coming off a night where he uncharacteristically had a poor outside shooting night against Oneonta — and Sam Longwell gave us a boost and Lee Vasquez (13 points) gave us a boost.
Leonelli also cited Vasquez’s staunch defensive presence as a difference in Sunday’s win over the Outtatowners.
“Vasquez is by far our best on the ball defender, he was really able to set the tone from a ball pressure standpoint and disrupt (New England) from what they like to do,” Leonelli said.
Worcester held a 99-79 lead after three quarters, however the 78’s defense fell asleep in the fourth quarter allowing New England to get to the rim for far too many easy baskets in the final quarter.
“I think we lacked focus [in the fourth quarter], we allowed them to get to two points a couple of times,” Leonelli said. The
Outtatowners opened the fourth quarter scoring five quick points before Longwell found Walker underneath the hoop.
The Outtatowners quickly went on an 11-5 run to start the quarter.
Walker then added a floater in the lane and Longwell found Cruz Jr on the break to stop the bleeding. Gallo then added a pair of free throws before New England went on another 8-2 run in the following three minutes.
However, Worcester managed to hang on in the final minutes for the 118-116 win.
“It’s important that we establish our identity going forward from this point and we’ve been a little uneven,” Leonelli said. “We’ve added some real talent to this group and we’re still figuring out who we are — but we are halfway [through the schedule] and so those excuses are kind of out the window.”
The 78’s are still looking to bring in some added talent and depth to the roster as the season continues as Leonelli and staff plan to work out a pair of new players during the week.
“It’s time to put some work together and we’re not done with roster [additions] either. We got a couple of guys coming in on Thursday night with a chance to make the team — it’s going to be an interesting couple of weeks,” Leonelli said.
The 78’s will host the ATC Cardinals at Worcester State this Saturday night before the Outtatowners return to Worcester on January 19.