By MICHAEL LETENDRE
NEW BRITAIN – There wasn’t much else the Bristol Central boys basketball team could have done in its overtime loss to Career Magnet on Tuesday, March 18 in a Class L, semifinal tilt from the Chick Shea Gymnasium on the campus of New Britain High School.
The third-ranked Rams emptied its collective tank, made a late surge, and forced an extra session against the Panthers and actually held an early edge in overtime.
But a late steal and hoop by Amos Ford, a fifth foul on Central’s Manny Severino and six clutch foul shots by Tyreek Perkins propelled Career to the Class M championship, defeating the Rams 66-61 in overtime.
And frankly, the Panthers had to hang on to dear life to acquire that victory because Central left it all on the floor before the final horn ended its season at an amazing 20-5 ledger.
“I couldn’t ask for much more,” Rams’ coach Tim Barrette said. “I’ve been telling these guys all year it’s going to take all eight guys, and tonight it, literally, it took all eight guys I played, even a ninth. I can’t commend my guys for any more effort than they just left.”
“All I ask from them every day when they come to practice, and every game, is to leave it all on the floor…I’ll tell you what, that’s the definition of it tonight.”
Career (22-4) looked to be in the driver’s seat as a breakaway dunk by Matt Hamilton made it a 55-49 game with 54 seconds left in regulation.
Down two possessions, everything would have to go right for Central to tie up the game and force an extra period.
And that’s exactly what the Rams did.
Eight seconds after the throw-down by Hamilton, Severino (team-high 18 points, 12 rebounds) buried a three-pointer to chop the deficit in half (55-52) with 46.5 seconds remaining.
Career’s Ty Eaddy and Justice Phifer also complied by combining to miss 5-of-6 free throws down the stretch and off a Severino foul shot make, it was once again a one-possession game.
Off two consecutive Eaddy misses from the line, DeFillippi (16 points, seven assists) made the opponents pay with a huge three-point bomb and with just under 17 seconds remaining in the fourth period, the score was deadlocked at 56-56 apiece as the Bristol crowd erupted.
“Joey’s a good shooter,” said Barrette of DeFillippi. “He didn’t shoot the ball great tonight but I have all the confidence in the world (in him). I’ve been saying that all year and I’ll (still) go to him. I don’t care if he misses 20 shots. I’m still going to my senior captain because he hits big shots all the time for me.”
With 8.9 seconds remaining, Career called time, set up a play, and drove to the hoop for a game winning lay-in, but the shot was short and the Panthers never got off another clear attempt as the game went into overtime at 56-56.
“Never say quit, that’s all I tell these guys,” said Barrette. “It’s not about how hard you get hit, it’s whether or not you can keep moving forward and we did that all night.”
In the four-minute overtime challenge, Jacob Collins (12 points, nine rebounds) hit a quick jumper as Central went ahead in the fray 58-56.
Phifer answered with a long jumper of his own to tie it up at 58-58.
DeFillippi answered by hitting one-of-two free throws and with 2:07 left, the Rams were in charge 59-58.
Off a miss by Career, Central had the ball and was up one. But off the Ford steal and layup, Career led for good and held a 60-59 edge with 1:25 to play.
And then with 1:07 left, Severino picked up a controversial fifth foul off a driving attempt to the hoop. When he slipped, Ty Hamel tripped over the fallen Severino and hurt his knee in the process.
In one fell swoop, Central lost both Severino and Hamel and Career quickly went into keep-away mode.
The Rams were forced to foul Perkins – who canned two straight free throws – but DeFillippi followed suit and with 20.2 second left, it was just a one point game at 62-61.
But that was as close as Central got the rest of the way.
Perkins canned two additional free throws and as DeFillippi was trying to force the ball over to Collins of the ensuing play, it was picked off, and with 3.4 seconds left, the game was all but over.
The Panthers ended the contest off two more Perkins free throws and at the end, Central fell by a 66-61 final.
Unfortunately, Central lost the game at the foul line as the squad combined to miss 12 of 24 attempts.
Combined 20 offensive rebounds by the Panthers, it was a formula for disaster.
“I stress it all the time in my guys…you can’t shoot 50-percent in a state tournament game, in a close game, and win those,” said Barrette of the free throw shooting. “Plus, I don’t know how many offensive rebounds we gave up. You can’t give up 20 offensive rebounds and shoot 50-percent from the line and beat a good team like Career.”
Phifer led a very balanced scoring attack as he nailed most of his 17 points from the outside, Hamilton smashed in 15 and Perkins hit 10 free throws on his way to 14 points.
Jordan Lomax flipped in seven points while Eaddy scored six for the victorious squad.
L.J. Johnson hit three big shots for seven points. Landin Rutledge added four points and four rebounds, Hamel scooped in two points and two rebounds while Kyle Pileski scored a hoop for the Rams.
Devin Francis and even Jason Severino got into the action before things were said and done.
Central led early in the game, lost it quickly, but got it back by the end of the third period.
Overall, the squads exchanged leads seven times to go along with seven ties.
When Central did get any type of advantage in the game, it wasn’t able to pad it very much.
“We were chasing all night,” said Barrette. “That’s not ideal to play Career when you’re chasing. We got up one or two (and) that’s about it all night.”
The biggest lead for Central came over the first minute of the fourth period as a steal and two free throws from DeFillippi gave the Rams a 47-44 edge.
Central hung around over the first period of play. But off a 6-6 tie, Career went on a 13-4 jaunt as a hoop by Hamilton closed out the frame and made it a 19-10 push in the Panthers’ favor.
With Severino battling foul trouble over the first frame, Severino returned in the second with a vengeance, scoring the first five points of the tilt to cut the deficit to 19-15 with 7:20 left before the half.
Career eventually pushed it out to out to double-figures but off a drawn charge from Pileski and a three-pointer and two foul shots from DeFillippi, Central was within five (30-25) .
But a three-pointer at the buzzer by Lomax pushed it back to 33-25 at the halftime horn.
The Rams came out of the locker room with some fire and off a 9-2 run to open the third, Collins hit a hoop and Johnson followed up with a blazing three-pointer as Central trailed by just one (35-34) with 5:06 left in the frame.
It was the start of an amazing 29-11 third period scoring blitz and off a spin-move and hoop by Severino and two Collins’ charity makes, Central’s lead was 45-44 going into the fourth period.
The lead changed hands a few times in the stanza but with 3:13 left in regulation, the plays of the game – which one Central rebound could have prevented – came to pass.
Ford went to the foul line but missed both shots but Career got the rebound and quickly marched back to the free throw stripe.
Lomax hit one, missed the second and – once again – the Panthers came up with the loose ball via an offensive rebound.
Again, Lomax went one-for-two and with 3:05 left in regulation and instead of a one point game, it was a three point affair at 52-49.
“They took six shots,” said Barrette of the sequence. “I’m not going to reflect on that with my guys but obviously, that’s a big moment in the game. We gave them six (foul shooting) opportunities. Career made three to go up (three) and that was a big turning point. We were only down one. If they miss front end of a one-and-one, the second one or they miss both and we don’t come up with the ball…give (Career) credit.”
“They went after the ball and we just didn’t have enough in the tank to grab the ball.”
Another 1:52 later, Eaddy nailed a free throw to put Career ahead by four and off the slam from Hamilton, Central trailed 55-49 with 54 seconds left in the fourth period.
Off a period ending 7-1 run by Central, highlighted by the DeFillippi three-pointer that bounced around every conceivable part of the rim (maybe even the backboard) before eventually falling in, the teams were knotted at 56-56.
Off the fourth period horn, the Rams extended its season by four minutes.
Though Central fell short in its goal of a state tournament final game, the Rams fought tooth and nail to the very end and gave it everything.
“I couldn’t have been any prouder of my team,” said Barrette. “That’s (Career) a good basketball team. Like I said, we gave it everything we had tonight.”