By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – If you’re going to take away an offense from a scholastic basketball team, slowing the game down might be the best route to take.
That’s what the Bristol Eastern boys squad tried against Bristol Central in a CCC South battle from the Thomas M. Monahan Gym in Bristol on Monday, Feb. 24.
For three quarters, it worked out pretty well for the Lancers as the slow down tactics – along with Eastern’s feisty defense – gave the Rams plenty of fits early on in things.
With the game moving along at a crawl, it gave the Rams precious few chances at hoops and second chance opportunities.
“In the first half, we missed a bunch of bunnies inside,” said Central coach Tim Barrette. “When somebody’s playing that style of game, we’ve seen it in the past with Berlin and stuff like that, you can’t fall behind. If you’re ahead, people can’t stall. I have a ton of respect for coach (Eastern coach Mike Giovinazzo). I’ve been part of games when he’s done that before as a player.”
“I kind of had that feeling he was going to do that especially (after) the JV game.”
But when the Lancers’ offense failed to make its shots over the second half, and the Rams shooting game finally came out of its slumber, it spelled doom and demise for Eastern.
Central’s Joey DeFillippi scored 10 of his 11 points in the final quarter as the Rams snuck past the Lancers 37-33 in a cross-town engagement.
The win was twofold for visiting Central (17-3 overall, 12-2 CCC South).
It knocked Eastern (6-13) out of the state tournament picture but more importantly, Central earned a share of the CCC South championship, its first in over 10 years.
The win also kept the Rams third in the Class L state tournament standings.
DeFillippi’s offense was huge over the final eight minutes of the game as Central scored 26 of its 37 total points over the second half of play.
With 5:38 left to play, DeFillippi flipped in a lay-up to knot the score at 28-28 and later, off a steal by defensive guru L.J. Johnson, the Central point guard knocked in another high percentage shot in the paint as Central led by two (30-28) with 3:31 remaining.
“DeFillippi made same great plays at the end of the game, handling the ball, doing all the right things,” said Eastern coach Mike Giovinazzo. “They’re a veteran team, smart team.”
And off a huge steal by Manny Severino (five points), he drilled a dagger of a three-pointer – from the top of the key – and the Rams’ 33-28 push with 2:39 to go in regulation was a huge lift.
Severino’s shot was as big as any shot taken in the contest.
“One of the biggest hoops of the game was the three-pointer by Severino,” said Giovinazzo. “It just came off a loose ball in a scramble situation. He’s a veteran player…he knocked it down.”
Jacob Collins added 10 points for the Rams and teammate Landin Rutledge offered in six of his own.
But points were at a premium early in the fray for the Rams as Eastern’s slowdown tactics, and defense to boot, held Central’s offense in check.
“Their game plan in the first half was executed perfectly,” said Barrette. “But give them credit. They were shooting 67-percent from three-point land in the first half and it’s difficult to play defense for a minute-and-a-half and then give up a dagger three at the end of the possession.”
The Rams scored nine points in the first quarter but only added two points to the scoreboard in the second period as Central trailed by double-figures at the half, 21-11.
With Eastern limiting the number of times Central had the ball, the home team made the game a real tricky mess for the visitors as they missed 10 of the 15 field goals they attempted over the first half of play.
“You try to slow the game down on offense so it limits their possessions, it’s pretty much what it amounts to,” said Giovinazzo of the Eastern slowdown strategy. “It looks like we’re doing it for us but we’re really doing it to keep the ball out of Central’s hands as much as possible. You obviously have to play good defense, you’ve got to rebound and you hope they get frustrated.”
“In the first half, they did.”
Eastern, on the other hand, made eight of its 12 field goal attempts in the first half and drilled four there-pointers out of six tries.
George Taylor came to play and smashed in a game best 13 points – two of his shots coming from downtown – while, also adding two assists. Daron McKoy made all three shots he took and scored nine points to go along with two rebounds.
Eric Therrien added five points and three rebounds. Meanwhile, Ernest Wallace notched two points and a team-high five rebounds off the pine.
Eastern out-rebounded Central by two (21-19) but Central’s defense, led by the exploits of Severino, Johnson and DeFillippi, forced the Lancers into 18 turnovers as the more experience team took advantage of its younger counterparts.
With the offense at a crawl for both teams to open things up, an offensive rebound and put-back by Collins tied the game a 2-2 with 4:36 left in the first period before Central ended the stanza off a 7-2 push.
Off a hoop by Darieyn Tate (two points, three assists), Collins hit a bucket from the baseline, Johnson lofted in a floater and off a big three-pointer from Ty Hamel, the Rams’ lead was 9-6 after one frame of action.
But the Rams made only four field goal attempts in the second period as Eastern’s defense – and poise – took over the frame.
The Lancers hit four three-pointers during its 13-0 run – with McKoy netting a four-point play, getting fouled in the act of shooting by Central’s Devin Francis. Meanwhile, making a three in the process – and with 3:40 before the half, Eastern was standing tall at 19-9.
A jumper by Collins with 1:09 remaining in the second quarter got Central on the board. But Taylor found Wallace for one last hoop as Eastern’s 21-11 lead was the difference at the half.
In the third period, the Lancers couldn’t buy a basket as Central’s defense came rip-roaring back into action.
And so did its offense.
Unlike the first half, Central made those shots count inside and over the final 16 minutes of play, the Rams hit 10 of its 19 shots and in the final period alone, the visitors went five of nine from the field.
Central scored the first five points of the third as an offensive put-in by Johnson trimmed the deficit to 21-16 with 4:41 left in the stanza.
“In the second half, we knew at halftime they were going to dig in and their intensity level was going to pick up,” said Giovinazzo of Central. “They started getting some put-backs, started going inside where their real strength is…they did what they do best.”
Eastern’s first – and only – third period field goal came with 40.9 seconds left to go but Taylor’s three-point play made it a 26-22 game in the Lancers’ favor and that score ended the tilt.
George, in fact, scored all five of Eastern’s points in the third quarter.
“We turned up the pressure a little bit (in the second half) and once game pressure gets on players that are young, Eastern has young guards, we had game pressure on those young guards, we got a couple turnovers and we got right back in the game.”
The Lancers’ offense continued to struggle going into the fourth and final period as missed Eastern free throws – combined with buckets by Rutledge and DeFillippi, trimmed the lead to 28-26 with 5:58 remaining.
“We probably made some bad decisions during that stretch, some questionable shots,” said Giovinazzo of the third and early fourth period. “I think fatigue was starting to set in. Some kids that were out there all night were losing their legs.”
“I certainly can’t fault us overall.”
That lack of offense doomed Eastern as DeFillippi and Severino hit their dagger shots. But a step-in three-pointer by George was a huge lift to the Lancers and suddenly, a five-point deficit was only two at 33-31 with 1:29 left on the scoreboard.
Central gave DeFillippi the ball for the remainder of the game as he went into “Harlem Globetrotter” mode, eluding and dribbling past Eastern defenders and was eventually fouled on a couple occasions to force one-and-one shooting situations from the foul line.
With 39.7 seconds left, DeFillippi canned one charity toss but missed the second.
But Collins zipped in to collect the offensive rebound and got the ball back out to DeFillippi as Central was holding on to a 34-31 edge.
“That rebound was huge,” said Giovinazzo of the Collins rebound. “DeFillippi doesn’t miss many foul shots. When he misses one and you don’t get the rebound, you’re going to pay for it and we did.”
With the ball in DeFillippi’s hands, he was once again fouled, making just 1-of-2 free throws but Central held a two-possession edge with 35.8 seconds left and was still ahead, 35-31, in the fray.
With ice water in his veins, Taylor made another jumper and with 26 seconds remaining, it was only a two-point game at 35-33 as Central was attempting to hold on.
“They made a couple (late) shots,” said Barrette of Eastern. “Taylor had a hell of a game tonight.”
DeFillippi iced the thing with two more free throws, giving Central a 37-33 edge with 16.2 seconds left in the contest and Eastern was out of timeouts and offensive answers.
Taylor missed a couple shots late as Central nabbed a huge win and picked up a 37-33 victory against a very aggressive Lancers’ aggression, playing hard until the final buzzer but just coming up short.
“It was total team effort coming back in the second half,” said Barrette of the victory. “We were pretty, obviously, frustrated at halftime but we were able to pick up the pace a little bit and score inside early in the third period, which got us back in the game.”
And for the Lancers, it will be the first time the program will miss the state tournament picture since 2007.
“It’s about as heartbreaking as they come,” said Giovinazzo of the loss. “To battle that long, get that close and not be able to finish, it’s painful.”