By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – A day after dropping a tough lose to Bulkeley, the senior core of the Bristol Eastern boys basketball team wanted to make a statement to conclude its regular season. That statement involved getting a little revenge against Middletown and showing the crowd exactly what Lancer basketball was all about.
By the completion of thirty-two minutes, Eastern had one of its biggest victories of the season and downed the Blue Dragons 66-53 in a CCC South war from Bristol on Thursday, February 21. Because of the Home Show that took place on the Bristol Eastern campus this past weekend, the Lancers (9-11) were forced to play at Bristol Central but the senior crew could really care less about the venue or location. Getting a victory over the Blue Dragons was not only a big deal in terms of standing but it solidified the effort by Eastern’s senior core, playing in its final regular season game ever.
“It really says a lot about the seniors to be honest with you,” said Eastern coach Mike Giovinazzo of the final regular season game. “We could have easily gone into the tank tonight playing on a court that’s not your home court against a team that thumped you the first time (this year) by twenty-five points.” “That was a very impressive performance.” Senior Ryan Chiasson led all players with a career high 24 points – hitting 10 free throws in the process – while also collecting seven rebounds and three assists. Fellow seniors Gabe Ungaro added four points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals while Juan Gonzalez played his last home game in an Eastern uniform with career highs of nine points and eight rebounds. He also collected three assists and two steals in a very dominating 27 minute stint. Each and every time the Lancers needed a little something on the court, Gonzalez was there to provide it.
“Juan really stepped up tonight,” said Giovinazzo of Gonzalez. “Juan, in place of Mike Belton, was trying to be Belton for the first couple of games and he really didn’t know how to go about it. We told him ‘Juan, just be Juan and do the things you do well’ and he did that for us tonight. He hit a couple big shots for us…he was all over the place on loose balls and playing great defense. He really sparked us tonight.”
Underclassmen Kevin Love plastered Middletown for 20 points, 11 rebounds and made three loud blocks while George Taylor had four points, three rebounds and four assists on the evening. Daron McKoy threw in a critical 3-pointer in the second quarter of action as Eastern trailed by three points at the half but the squad racked up 42 points over the second half of action. Middletown (11-9) hardly quit and battled to the bitter end making tougher and tough shots as the evening wore on.
Antonio White blasted in 16 points and hit a big 3-pointer late in the game while big man Brandon Simmons added all nine of his points in the first half of play while corralling a number of tough rebounds.
But Simmons hurt his thumb early in the third period and did not return to the game.
That’s when the Blue Dragons went to the long ball and took several deep shots from downtown.
In all, Middletown attempted 30 three-pointers in the game but only connected on 23 percent of them (7-of-30) and as the final period wore on, those makes begun to dry up.
“I thought Middletown would start to shoot quicker, which they did and they made some shots,” said Giovinazzo. “We were switching back and forth between zone and man and I think that caused just enough confusion where they weren’t able to settle in on offense.” Eastern went up 8-4 early in the game thanks in part to three hoops by Love to give the ‘home’ team an early push.
But over the final 3:08 of the first stanza, Middletown went on a blazing 11-2 run and off an offensive rebound and put-back by Andrew Campbell, the Blue Dragons led 15-10.
The teams traded hoops to open the second period but off a Simmons free throw with 4:47 remaining in the first half, the Blue Dragons led 22-14.
The Lancers followed up with an 8-2 burst as the 3-pointer from McKoy was followed by another shot by Love and Eastern trailed 24-22 with 1:34 before intermission.
And off one final lay up by Taylor, Middletown led only by a basket at the half, 27-24.
Eastern again trailed by seven early in the third frame and off another hoop by White, the visitors were in control 31-24.
But a 9-0 run gave Eastern the advantage again as a blistering 3-pointer by Gonzalez pushed the Lancers edge to 33-31 exactly halfway through the third stanza.
Ever so pesky, the Blue Dragons scooped up a 38-35 edge with 2:31 left in the frame but Eastern did not let Middletown score over the next three minutes of action.
The Lancers used a 13-0 sprint to pick up a 48-38 cushion as an impressive looking jumper by Love made it a double-digit affair with 6:34 remaining.
That cushion would remain at ten points with under three minutes to play before Chiasson put the team on his shoulders and scored the next eight Eastern points – including an impressive coast-to-coast drive plus a foul – as the Lancers held a 64-53 tally with 1:03 showing on the scoreboard.
“Ryan, what an effort,” said Giovinazzo. “What leadership, what intensity. When your team is down and you need someone to give your team a spark, he’s the one. I’m so glad for him that he had a game like that.”
The Lancers scored one more basket in the showdown and it ended up being one of the shots of the game.
With just about twenty seconds left to play, Middletown was off and running on a fast-break but Ungaro hit the floor, stole the ball, flipped it up to Love – all alone at the Blue Dragons basket – and the sophomore slammed the ball home to send the crowd into a frenzy and propel Eastern to a 66-53 victory to end the regular season at 9-11. “We need3e (the win) for our psyche,” said Giovinazzo. “We needed it for our seating in the tournament. We couldn’t afford a loss tonight. They played with a sense of urgency. I was really proud of them.”
By MICHAEL LETENDRE