By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Before its game against Maloney on Thursday, Feb. 20, the Bristol Central boys basketball team honored its six seniors playing in their final scholastic home game.
And the game against the Spartans was, frankly, all about its seniors.
It was a contest its senior core refused to lose and in the end, Maloney came up just short.
The Spartans were never able to secure a fourth period lead in the game and in the end, Central nabbed a huge 50-48 victory to keep pace in the CCC South race for first place.
And the loss was a serious blow to Maloney’s chance at a share of the South as the Spartans fell to 13-5 overall and 10-3 in the league.
With the win, Central moved to 15-3 and 11-2 in CCC South action.
The 11-2 ledger put the Rams in first place as it held a half-game lead over second place Middletown and now holds a one game lead over Maloney.
The Rams have won six of its last seven and avenged a 60-55 loss to Maloney back on Jan. 30.
“We watched the film Sunday afternoon as a team,” said Central coach Tim Barrette of the first match-up with Maloney. “We didn’t play well offensively the first time against them either but we focused Sunday in film on defense. We were atrocious off the dribble against Maloney the first time and we did a much better job containing penetration.”
It was a balanced display as Manny Severino rolled out a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds while Joey DeFillippi played the entire game and racked up eight points, seven assists and five rebounds.
Jacob Collins notched 12 points and eight rebounds while Landin Rutledge tallied eight points off four of seven shooting from the field and added three rebounds.
L.J. Johnson collected four points and three assists – blocking two shots along the way – while Ty Hamel had four points and four rebounds, hitting a huge basket late in the game.
In 130 totals minutes played by the starting unit, Central committed just five turnovers in the game and had amazing control of the ball.
Jordan Martin scored a game best 17 points, Tracy Rumley flipped in 13 while big man Ethan Haxhaj added 10 big points off the bench for Maloney.
But Maloney struggled from the field, nailing just 17 of 54 field goals (31.5 percent) as Central’s defense forced the visitors into some tough shots.
“That’s a good team out there. We know them,” said Barrette of Maloney. “They’re going to finish with 14 or 15 wins. That’s a good team. But as a team, we did a very good job at containing the dribble and a decent job at getting out to the shooters. They made some three-pointers but they were contested.”
“Give those guys some credit.”
Central’s offense was crisp to open the game as the ball moved from player to player while Maloney missed eight of its first nine attempts.
Off a Rumley three-pointer – knotting the game at 4-4 – the Rams used a 11-0 sprint to rack up a 15-4 edge, its biggest of the game.
Collins scored two hoops, Rutledge stepped into a long jumper and Severino ended the run with a steal and two free throws as Central led by 11 with 2:11 left to play in the first.
But the Rams, who led 15-7 after one period of play, went nearly 7:45 without a point as Maloney cut the deficit to one.
A 10-0 burst, highlighted by a three-pointer from Jordan, trimmed the deficit all the way down to 15-14 as the Rams’ offense went into the tank.
Foul trouble also forced Collins to the Central bench for all but one minute of the second stanza.
“Sometimes it’s hard to take, I’ll call it the street game, out of some of these kids,” said Barrette. “They don’t understand that they have to stay within the offense. That offense that we run, our offensive sets are designed to go more than one or two passes. We have to be patient and when we’re not patient, that let Maloney back in the game.”
“That was our issue tonight in that second quarter when they came back, we were out (offensively) two best players in foul trouble and we were not patient enough and we just rushed and jacked up shots.”
Severino scored a bucket with 3:26 left to break the streak. DeFillippi added a three-pointer to increase the lead to 20-14 with 2:46 remaining before intermission.
Off a 7-1 Maloney run, a three-pointer by Mike Gulino tied the game at 21-21. At the half, the game was a 23-23 stalemate.
The third frame was a back-and-forth affair but off a lay-up from Haxhaj with 2:52 left, Central trailed 32-31.
That was the final time Maloney had the lead.
Central ended the third with a 9-4 spurt as two three-pointers by Severino and one by DeFillippi propelled the Rams to a 40-36 lead with one quarter left to go.
Each basket notched in the fourth period was bigger than the last as scoring became a bit of a premium.
A jumper by Jordan tied the game at 41-41 with 4:03 remaining but off an offensive rebound and put-back from Hamel, the Rams ramped up a small cushion.
Jordan and Rutledge exchanged hoops but the Maloney warrior hit two charity shots and with 2:31 left, the game was a 45-45 affair.
Rutledge missed a jumper but Jordan followed up with a miss from the free throw line as the game was still knotted up at 45-45 with less than two minutes remaining.
Collins hit his go-ahead hoop, Maloney came down and missed a three-pointer, and quickly, Hamel put in an insurance basket.
Collins found Hamel in the paint and he banked a shot in to make it a 49-45 game with 1:01 showing on the clock.
The Spartans missed another attempt as Central’s defense was big down the stretch.
DeFillippi made one of two free throws and with 34.2 seconds left, Central led 50-45.
But a huge three-point play by Rumley, with 26.7 seconds remaining, made it a 50-48 contest with plenty of time remaining.
Maloney immediately fouled Severino but he missed the first shot of a one-and-one opportunity.
Jamel Hamans scooped up the miss and with 21.3 seconds, the Spartans had the ball and wanted the last shot.
A two-pointer would tie it up while a three would have propelled Maloney to the lead.
Maloney couldn’t find anything off its first attack at the hoop and called timeout with about five seconds left.
The call went to Haxhaj inside but the big man was crowded by Central almost immediately.
He gathered the ball, took a contested shot but missed the game-tying attempt as Central got its revenge and held on to win it, 50-48.
“I told those guys in the locker room I was really proud of them,” said a beaming Barrette after the game. “It hasn’t been an easy season, truthfully. There’s no rhythm to this season with snow days, and no practice here and games getting moved. And you know what, tonight we stepped up. I told them I saw a different look in them than the last time out (against Maloney) when they knew they needed a defensive stop.”
“I knew they were ready to go and we did what we wanted them to do…we made them take a tough shot and then we rebounded the basketball which was even more important.”
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObserver.com