By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Having to play back-to-back games in boys scholastic hoop just once in a season is bad enough.
But because of recent school cancellations, the Bristol Eastern boys basketball team had to perform the feat for a second time this year.
And just like in the first set of back-to-backs, the opening contest proved to be a near miss while the second was a big victory for the Lancers.
Off a tough four point loss at Newington the previous evening, Eastern rebounded nicely with a 66-50 win over Plainville from the Thomas M. Monahan Gym in Bristol on Thursday, Jan. 10.
The victory evened Eastern’s record to 3-3 on the season while Plainville remained winless at 0-6.
Eastern’s George Taylor played his best game in an Eastern uniform and came away with a career high 13 points to go along with five rebounds while reserve Mike Belton chipped in 11 points and eight rebounds.
Taylor connected on all eight free throws he took while Belton seemingly made a critical hoop when it was needed the most.
“George has varsity experience and he knows what he’s doing out there,” said Eastern coach Mike Giovinazzo of Taylor. “Mike (Belton) is a good athlete and he’s going to make plays for you. Sometimes, he gets a little out of control but you’re going to get some good results from him because of his athletic ability and his intensity.”
Darieyn Tate collected 10 points, six rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Savion Wade – making his first ever varsity start – nearly snared a double-double with eight points, eight rebounds while capturing a game high three assists in a solid all-around effort.
Ernest Wallace shook off a tough outing at Newington to ring up eight points and a team best 12 defensive rebounds as Eastern was hungry to get back into the win column off a disappointing 63-59 loss to the Indians the previous night.
Plainville struggled mightily from the field and missed 31 of its first 34 shots – leading to a miserable 8.8 percent shooting clip – that stretched into the third period of play. At one point, the team went 14:12 between field goals.
But the Blue Devils dug deep and ended the game by hitting 12 of its final 27 attempts, good for a 44.4 percent finish, that almost saw Plainville draw even late.
“The boys fought hard,” said Plainville coach Marc Wesoly of his team. “They didn’t give up. They could have easily given up but they fought back all the way.”
Plainville’s Jayden Lococo went on a 9-0 run by himself to make it a single-digit affair on the scoreboard in the fourth period.
He came away with 15 points while Butler was aggressive from the start, crashing the glass, making his way to the foul line and zipped in a game high of 19 points.
Plainville tried to contain Eastern from the start but Daron McKoy (seven points) was firing away early and often.
He scored all seven of his points over the first 3:09 of the game. Off his final three-pointer, Eastern was in front at 13-6.
“We executed very well on offense,” said Giovinazzo of the first quarter. “We got some good shots, we got a lead, and we were able to protect it for the most-part for the rest of the game.”
“But I think it was important for us to get off to a good start and I thought we did and most of that was because we executed well on offense.”
Butler hit for Plainville’s first eight points in the frame while Dixon drained a three-pointer but off four consecutive points from Belton, the Lancers led 17-11 after one period of play.
“We been talking about defense the last four days,” said Wesoly. “Our goal was to keep them under 45 (points) but McKoy comes out on fire and they had 17 points in the first quarter. That’s a lot.”
Plainville hung around in the second period but did not hit a field goal in the frame.
All the offense it could muster were six free throws but its defense did just enough to disrupt Eastern and limited its scoring opportunities.
“Nick D’Amico stepped up defensively,” said Wesoly. “(Jeff) Ziegenhagen stepped up defensively for us and that’s what we needed. We just can’t be a five man rotation. We need to start coming in and contribute.”
Two free throws by Wade made it a 25-13 game with 3:39 left before intermission but two charity tosses apiece by Lococo and Butler trimmed the deficit to 25-17.
Belton ended the half with a put-back and Wallace zipped in a lay-up as Eastern went into the half leading 29-17.
In the third frame, Plainville’s offense still couldn’t connect from the field and off and 6-1 Eastern run, the visitors trailed 35-18 with 4:18 left in the quarter.
Finally, Dixon drained a much needed three-pointer – breaking that stretch of 14:02 in which Plainville did not hit a field goal.
But off a 11-5 run by the Lancers – highlighted by a three-pointer by Wallace – it was a 46-26 game. With 41 seconds to go in the third, Eastern had its biggest edge in the game.
And even as the third period saw the Lancers take a sizable 48-30 push, there was still eight more minutes of hoop left to be played and the Blue Devils were ready to make one final push.
Over the first four minutes of the final stanza, it was all Blue Devils – save a Plainville technical foul that led to two free throws by George – as a 15-2 jaunt was highlighted by a hoop and steal from Fischer and all those consecutive points by Lococo.
“The kid can shot the ball,” said Wesoly of Lococo. “That’s what we expect of him. He kind of got cold in the first half but he didn’t give up on the shot. Shooter’s shoot and that’s what I tell Lococo and Dixon all the time.”
“They did that and they kept us in the game.”
Off the Fischer swipe and bucket, the Blue Devils were trailing by a slim five point margin at 50-45 with 4:05 remaining a little added defense via full court press antics.
“I knew they weren’t going to go away,” said Giovinazzo of Plainville. “They hadn’t put the press on us yet. I thought we handled it pretty well. It wasn’t the press that was bothering us. It was coming down, taking bad shots and making poor passes. We broke the press.”
“They did get a steal or two out of it but it was mostly our decisions in the half-court that got them back in the game.”
But Eastern secured the game off a Belton lay-in and off two freebies by Tate, the Lancers lead grew to 54-45 with 3:20 left to play.
Plainville forced Eastern to the line for the remainder of the contest. Eastern responded with 10 free throw makes, thanks in part by connections from Tate and George.
“They’re excellent ball handlers and smart passers,” said Giovinazzo of Tate and George. “They’re good free throw shooters. They’re the kind guys you have to have in at the end of the game.”
Fischer fouled out with 2:33 remaining in the game. Off a hoop by Ziegenhagen and a Lococo free throw, Plainville ended its scoring on the night, well short of a complete comeback and dropped a hard fought 66-50 contest from Bristol.
“When we came home last the night, the mood was not very good,” said Giovinazzo off the Newington loss. “But it feels good tonight.”
By MICHAEL LETENDRE