By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Defense ruled the day when the Berlin boys basketball team traveled to Bristol Eastern on Saturday, Jan. 11 for a CCC South encounter.
In fact, a five-point third quarter doomed the Redcoats as Eastern nabbed control of the contest and picked up a 44-36 victory from the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium from the campus of Bristol Eastern in a CCC South tilt.
The win propelled the Lancers back over the .500 mark (4-3) while Eastern is a perfect in CCC South play at 3-0.
Berlin fell to 1-5 on the year and squandered all of a 19-13 lead and a four-point halftime push.
It was that Eastern defense that turned a 19-15 deficit into a 31-24 lead after the completion of the third period as the Redcoats were limited to just one three-point goal and two free throws.
But it was a solid effort throughout the game defensively as Berlin only collected eight first quarter points and totaled just 19 for the first half.
“We mixed up a couple defenses on them,” said Eastern coach Mike Giovinazzo. “We tried to play them some man, some zone so they couldn’t get comfortable in their sets. I thought that worked well in the first half.”
Once Eastern got comfortable against the Berlin defense, the Lancers really spread the wealth around and everybody got into the action.
George Taylor continues to impress and drained a new career high of 16 points – including an impressive 4-of-5 showing from downtown – while also capturing four rebounds and two assists on a busy night of action.
In his first start of the year, Taylor played the full 32 minutes.
Off the bench, Mike Belton displayed another strong game and racked up nine points, four rebounds, and two assists while Alex Hunter had his best night of the season, going 4-of-6 from the field for eight points in a big 10 minutes worth of action.
Eastern’s bench outscored Berlin’s 17-6.
Savion Wade collected four points and a team high of seven rebounds, Ernest Wallace added four points, six rebounds and two assists while Eric Therrien collected three points, five rebounds, two assists, and blocked two shots.
Point guard Darieyn Tate locked up four rebounds, four assists, and made two steals while going the distance at point guard.
The offense was fluid and crisp while the Eastern guards made sure everyone got involved.
Every Lancer player took at least four attempts at the basket during the fray and in the second half, Eastern made 10-of-18 field goals after missing 19-of-25 attempts over the first half of play.
“We’re doing a much better job executing against all sorts of defenses now,” said Giovinazzo. “As long as everybody knows their role and as long as we move the ball and keep that onside/outside mentality. You know, you can’t go round and round and beat any defense. I don’t care if it’s zone or man.”
“We’re really starting to understand that inside/outside mentality.”
But it was a battle early as Berlin’s Brendon Vessichio got loose for nine of his 14 points in the first half while big Dominic Nuzzo added 14 points – eight of which came over the first 16 minutes of action.
Early in the first period, Nuzzo hit a hook shot that gave Berlin a lead but off an Eastern 7-2 burst, the Lancer took control of the stanza.
Therrien hit a free throw, Wallace put in a hoop, and Hunter made an offensive rebound and put-back as Eastern was in front 9-6 with 1:44 to play in the frame.
But off two free throws by Nuzzo, the Lancers’ edge was chopped to 9-8 after one period of work.
Five lead changes highlighted a busy second quarter of action but off two consecutive Belton free throws – giving Eastern the lead at 13-12 with 4:34 left to play in the half – Berlin went on a run to take the lead into the half.
Vessichio hit a three-pointer, made a spin-move to the hoop for a basket, and off two free throws by R.J. Veneziano, the Redcoats built a 19-13 lead with 2:03 remaining in the half.
But off one last lay-up by Wade, the Lancers trailed by just four points going into the locker room.
In the third period, Eastern’s zone was too much for Berlin as Eastern’s shooters started to put points up on the board without the opponents responding in return.
The only hoop the Redcoats could muster was a three-pointer by Evan McKinnen. Quickly, the home team built up its lead.
“In the second half, we pretty much settled into a zone,” said Giovinazzo on defense, “hoping to extend far enough to make sure we were getting to the shooters.”
Eastern scored five straight points to recapture the lead. bBut that three-ball by McKinnen gave Berlin a 22-20 lead with 5:39 left to go in the frame.
But the Lancers went on a blazing 11-0 run with George and Belton netting all the points during the dash.
George zipped in two three-pointer. Belton also dropped in two hoops of his own – including a trifecta – and with 37 seconds to go in the third quarter, the Lancers were in charge 31-22.
Vessichio ended the quarter with two free throws. But the Redcoats still trailed by seven entering the final period of play.
Taylor hit another three to open the final period, giving the Lancers its first double figure lead at 34-24. However, in a matter of two minutes, Berlin scored five straight points to get back into it.
Nuzzo hit a bucket and McKinnen drained his final three-pointer of the evening as the visitors closed the gap to 34-29 with 5:30 to play.
That was as close the Redcoats could get as the home team was seemingly one hoop ahead of the competition.
Hunter and Taylor hit back-to-back hoops to stretch the cushion back out to nine again. Ahough Vessichio hit one last three-pointer with 2:37 remaining in the fray, Eastern was still on top 38-32.
Again, Hunter hit for another basket and off one additional free throw by George, the game was nearing its completion thanks to Eastern’s 41-32 tilt with 1:22 left.
“We have good guards,” said Giovinazzo. “Our guards are tough, smart. They don’t wilt under pressure, let’s just put it that way, whether it’s emotional pressure or physical pressure.”
Two additional free throws by Wade put the game out of reach for the opponents. Off one final charity toss by Taylor to end a career evening, pushed the score to ten (44-34) with just 26.9 seconds left.
Berlin simply ran out of time as the Lancers – getting those clutch contributions up and down the line-up – grabbed a very satisfying eight-point victory from Bristol.
“I’ve told you at the beginning of the year, we have answers,” said Giovinazzo. “Last year, we didn’t have answers. If guys went down, we were in trouble. This year, we’ve got answers. If somebody’s down, we’ve got somebody that can step in there and get it done.”
“And tonight, they did.”