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Smith Academy sinks Ware in boys Division 3 first round

HATFIELD — The Smith Academy boys basketball team got just the kind of warm-up act it was looking for in its wire-to-wire domination of Ware on Monday.

The No. 4-seeded Falcons cruised to an easy 85-39 victory over the No. 13 Indians behind a barrage of 3-point shots — 14 in all — and a stifling press defense in the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Tournament first-round game.

Paced by 21 points from the hot-shooting Derek McMahon and 20 points from leading scorer Mat Sulda, Smith Academy jumped out to an early double-digit lead in the opening minutes and proceeded to smother its opponent until the final buzzer.

“We came out and played well right from the get-go,” Falcons coach Matt Zerneri said. “It was the most complete 16-minute first half we played all year. It’s a good time to be doing that.”

Though usually more accustomed to creating open looks for his teammates, McMahon found his own shooting groove early, converting on all five of his 3-point attempts in the first half as Smith Academy (18-3) built up a 32-point halftime lead.

“Over the last couple of games, I’ve been hitting a few (3-pointers) a game,” McMahon said. “At shootaround today I felt good and in warm-ups, too.”

Defensively, McMahon combined with Sulda (five steals) and Will Halloran (four steals) to harass the Ware (10-11) guards as they attempted to bring the ball up court, forcing 16 turnovers that led to a number of easy transition buckets.

Zerneri credited much of the team’s success defending Ware to the connection between Sulda and McMahon and the autonomy they have in making their own defensive calls and rotations.

“It’s nice to have where you can just kind of rely on those guys just to be able to do that,” Zerneri said. “We like to make the game a little quick, so we want to pressure the ball and pressure defenders, get in their comfort zone and see what they can do with it.”

Sulda and McMahon have a close relationship on and off the court.

“He’s basically my brother,” Sulda said. “I wouldn’t want to play beside any other point guard. He’s incredible, hustles, works hard.”

Added McMahon, “Mat and I have a great relationship, but everyone else on the team, we’re all like family. It makes the game come to us a lot easier.”

The Falcons kept up their intensity out of the break, adding to their lead and holding the Indians to just three points in the third quarter. Ware leading scorer Jacob Hubert, who was ineffective for long stretches of the game, scored just five of his 15 points after halftime.

Zerneri pulled his starters for the fourth quarter to rest up for the team’s second-round matchup with No. 5 New Leadership, which defeated No. 12 St. Mary 79-61 at home Monday. The quarterfinal round game is Thursday at 7 p.m. at Smith Academy.

“You always like to play well going into tournament,” Zerneri said. “And, you know, Ware’s a good team, they played hard, they played well. When we hit 12 3s in the first half, it’s tough to make a run back at it.”

Keith Natale added 14 points and Seaver Rickert pulled down a team-high seven rebounds for the Falcons.

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