By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The packed house from the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium at Bristol Eastern expected a back and forth showdown on Friday, Jan. 18 as the two public schools in town did battle in a marquee event.
But Bristol Central struggled after one period of play and the game soon became a blowout as the Lancers smashed the Rams 61-34 in a CCC South confrontation.
Defense was the calling card for Eastern (7-4) as the Lancers turned up the intensity and early shots that fell for the visitors failed to drop over the final 24 minutes of action.
“It always starts with that,” said Eastern coach Mike Giovinazzo about the defense. “If you can shut the other team down and you can turn missed shots and turnovers into fast-breaks, you’ve got a chance for some early offense and that happened for us tonight.”
The Rams led 6-3 early in the first frame but it was evident that the night belonged to the Lancers as that edge quickly evaporated and Central couldn’t get into what it wanted to do.
Eastern, however, found its niche in the game and simply forced its will upon the Rams.
“Let’s be honest, they (Eastern) pushed us around from start to finish,” said Bristol Central coach Tim Barrette. “They outplayed us, they were tougher than us tonight and they wanted this one more than we did.”
Eastern’s Kevin Love had another tremendous game, posting 23 points off 10-of-15 field goal shooting while snatching 13 rebounds.
And then there was the play of Mike Belton who added 14 points, six rebounds and three steals and was the team’s best defensive stopper.
Ryan Chiasson was the ring leader once again and directed traffic on the floor in an outstanding six point, three rebound, three steal and a team leading four assist effort.
George Taylor set the tone of the game with two huge three-pointers in the second period, scoring eight points and grabbing a season best five rebounds.
Gabe Ungaro followed suit with five points and three assists while draining a huge three-pointer at the third period buzzer as the Lancers led 48-21 with eight minutes left to play.
“This team knows what a good shot is,” said Giovinazzo of Eastern. “They know who to go to in what situations and they are really developing chemistry on offense.”
Jake Collins paced the Rams (7-3) with 12 points and had his moments in the game but his team didn’t follow suit.
On the three-point front, Central – partially because of Eastern’s man-to-man defense – missed its first 16 three-pointers before L.J. Johnson drained one with less than a minute to play in the showdown.
“That’s two years in a row” that the three-pointer hasn’t fallen for Central at Eastern, said Barrette. “I didn’t think we could shoot worse than last year here and we did that tonight. I mean making one in the last minute other than that, I believe we were 0-and-16 going into that (shot). I don’t know what we shot as a team.”
“You’re talking twenty-percent…”
The Lancers shot over 44 percent from the floor for the game while canning 4-of-7 three-points in a very efficient shooting performance.
Eastern made 12 steals in the game, had only four turnovers at the half, and limited the Rams to 26 percent shooting in the contest.
Once Love hit a bank-shot to give the Lancers a 9-8 push with 1:35 left to play in the first, Central would never taste the lead again.
It wasn’t all bad for the Rams.
Central out-rebounded Eastern by seven and blocked eight shots in the contest.
But the highlights were few and far between from there as a competitive affair early wasn’t so competitive later on in the game.
Justin Jakubiak had four points and Manny Severino came off the bench to do the same for the Rams.
Joey DeFillippi scored just two points as did Nick Prentis and with Eastern’s defense limiting Central’s core offensive group, it didn’t take long for the Lancers to capture the lead.
“We got 10 points from our starters combined minus Jake Collins,” said Barrette. “So if you have four starters that scored a combined ten points, you’re not going to win many basketball games like that.”
Eastern led 3-0 off the bat but a 6-0 burst propelled Central to the lead as an offensive rebound put back’s from Landin Rutledge, Collins and Prentiss gave the visitors a 6-3 push with 5:34 left in the first stanza.
But the Lancers closed the quarter with an 8-2 run as Love connected on two hoops while Belton and Chiasson also tallied a bucket as Eastern led 11-8 eight minutes into the tilt.
The Rams cut the deficit to two off a free throw by Kyle Pileski but Eastern hit on three consecutive three-point plays as Chiasson hit two and a foul while Taylor jammed in two back-to-back three-pointers as the Lancers’ lead was pushed to 20-9 with 5:48 left in the second period.
Central hung around and off a lay up by Justin Jakubiak, the Rams trailed 24-17 with 2:32 before the half.
However, Central wouldn’t score again over a stretch of 7:43 and that was fueled by more Eastern defense that led to offense.
Love scored five straight points while two Belton free throws ended the scoring in the half as Eastern led 31-17.
But Central’s shooting woes continued into the third period as the Ram’s missed its first nine field goals.
Eastern, in turn, scored the first 12 points of the third stanza – part of a 19-0 total burst – as the Lancers built a 43-17 push with 2:49 left in the quarter.
Eastern simply shredded the Rams’ full-court press and that meant lay-ups and high percentage shots on the opposite end of the court.
“We feel if you press us and we execute properly, we’re going to turn that pressure into offense and that’s really what we did,” said Barrette. “We turned their (Central’s) press into offense.”
Severino finally bounced in a shot to get on the board in the second half and off two charity shots from DeFillippi, Central cut the deficit to 43-21.
But Love zipped in another lay-up and Ungaro hit his dagger three-pointer to conclude the third quarter as the Lancers ruled 48-21.
Central cut the score to 23 via two free throws by Severino with 4:51 left to play but Belton helped push the edge back out with a spin move for a hoop and two foul shots that gave Eastern a 54-27 cushion.
Late in the game, Eastern’s Victor Williams made a put-back for a hoop and Daron McCoy flipped in a three-pointer while Central’s D.J. Dort and Johnson hit baskets but in the end, Eastern held on to an impressive 24-point victory.
“Give credit to Eastern,” said Barrette. “Their defense was good. They definitely made us work for everything. But let’s be honest, we had some open looks, we didn’t make them and it some of those go early, I think it’s a little bit different game.”
And indeed, it was a big win for the Lancers, winners of four out of its last five games.
“It says that they’re coming along and they’re progressing every day,” said Giovinazzo about his team getting the victory. “I’m sure a couple of weeks ago, a lot of people wouldn’t have thought we were capable of an effort like this but sometimes you can’t measure what kids are going to do in a game like this and how much they believe in each other.”