By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – It was senior night on Thursday, Feb. 12 for the Bristol Eastern boys basketball team and that class was facing a crisis in their game against CCC South power Bulkeley.
That senior core could have simply rolled over, absorbing another tough loss on its home floor, and called in an evening with playoff qualification already in hand.
Or, they could have fought it out and turned a significant deficit into a lead, pulling out a victory and making a senior night a memorable one for all.
And behind a blistering 30-point, fourth quarter effort, the seniors went for broke.
Eastern picked up – perhaps – the biggest win of the year as the squad came-from-behind to defeat the Bulldogs, 65-62, from the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium in Bristol.
Eastern, moving to 9-7 on the campaign, scored 45 points over the second half of action – netting a season best 30 over a frantic fourth and final period – as Eastern, trailing 45-35 going into the stanza, used its half court defense, and trapping zones to pick up turnovers and turn those into points.
On a few occasions, Bulkeley (8-8 overall, 8-4 CCC South) was able to beat the traps for easy lay-ups but most of their other shots were rushed over that fourth period of play as Eastern’s defense nailed down the job and took control of the game.
“It’s about trading off some baskets for a hectic pace and some turnovers,” said Eastern coach Mike Giovinazzo. “Bulkeley wasn’t able to stand there, hold the ball, spread us out, do what they do best. We were able to force them into mistakes and some quick shots.”
“Fortunately, it turned out good for us.”
And off those missed shots and turnovers, Eastern unleashed the three-ball to eventually take back the lead.
Daron McKoy (14 points) hit two threes in the row in the fourth while Taylor (game-high 26 points) and Austin Dias (six points, three assists) also drilled threes in the come-from-behind effort during the final stanza.
In fact, Taylor’s baseline three with 1:46 to play gave the Lancers the lead for good at 61-60.
“Those were good threes,” said Giovinazzo of the fourth period shooting. “The threes we made in the second half were good ones. The ones we took in the first half were not good. That’s a big difference. We need to understand that.”
Kevin Love added 13 points, nine rebounds, and three assists to the winning effort while Darieyn Tate was everywhere on the court defensively and stuffed the stat-sheet with an impressive six points, eight rebounds, and a team high six assists to fuel the winning effort.
Seniors Kahseym Fortune, Tommy Curtin, and Joey Pastyrnak all made plays for the Lancers along the way.
After shooting just 6-of-26 in the first half, Eastern ended the journey by sinking 14-of-20 shots (70-percent) to seal the winning effort.
Bulkeley’s three guard outfit of Malik Starks (15 points), Jason Alston (15), and Devonte Davis (13) did quite well, especially early in the fray, leaking out on Eastern misses and cashing in on lay-ups and high-percentage shots.
“We were in a two-guard front on offense and when you don’t have a designated point guard, sometimes guys get confused about who’s supposed to be back,” said Giovinazzo, “That cost us but I think we cleaned that up in the second half.”
Eastern trailed 6-0 and 9-1 early in the showdown but Eastern struck back as Taylor canned two threes and Love scooped up a conventional three-point play, leading to a mini 9-5 jaunt to close the first stanza and chop the deficit to 13-10 after one.
To open the second, Love found a streaking Taylor for a hoop and when McKoy canned two free throws, Eastern led 14-13 with 7:19 left before the half.
But the Eastern offense stalled out as the unit only scored six points the rest of the way.
However, hanging around off two additional McKoy charity tosses with 42.2 seconds remaining in the stanza, Eastern was down by just a 24-20 push.
But a huge three at the buzzer from Alston pushed the Lancers’ deficit to 27-20 at the break.
And then with 5:53 left in the third, Alston hit another big there and quickly, Eastern was looking up at a 34-21 deficit, the biggest advantage for the Bulldogs in game play.
But the home team did just enough to hang around in the tilt and via a 7-2 burst, fueled by four points from Love and a jumper from Tate, Eastern was down just 43-35 with 34 seconds left in the third.
Again, Bulkeley scored at the quarter buzzer as reserve Ian Tardiff drilled a short jumper off a missed attempt as the Bulkeley lead was 45-35 with eight minutes remaining.
The Eastern defense soon took its toll on Bulkeley and quickly, the Lancers drew even.
Over a jaunt of 3:24, the Lancers went on a blazing 18-8 run as the third and final three from McKoy fell through and suddenly, the score was tied up at 53-53 with a ton of time showing on the clock.
The Bulldogs appeared to have weathered the storm when the squad went on a 5-0 run as a free throw from Mason Miles made it a 58-53 game with 3:40 left to play.
Dias then drained a dagger three and Taylor followed it in with a floater. Quickly, it was tied again at 58-58 at the 2:27 mark of the fourth.
Bulkeley struck back with a hoop but off Taylor’s go-ahead three, the Eastern lead was 61-60 with 1:46 to play.
Under a minute remaining, Bulkeley missed out on a hoop; Tate was fouled and he drilled two clutch free throws to extend the Lancers’ edge to 63-60 with 42.2 seconds to go.
Miles beat the Eastern pressure and flipped in a lay-up off the Tate makes but Taylor hit two free throws of his own as the Eastern lead was 65-62 with 15.8 seconds remaining.
Starks was looking to tie it, misfiring on a three; but off a jump-ball situation, Eastern took possession of the ball.
On the inbounds with only 1.1 seconds left, Love fired the ball in-bounds; Miles intercepted the pass at half-court but he couldn’t get one final three-pointer to drop as Eastern won it by a three-point final on senior night, 65-62.
“There was a look in our guy’s eyes that I haven’t seen all year,” said Giovinazzo. “Whether it was senior night or whatever, they had something they normally don’t have tonight and I hope they can carry that over into the tournament.”
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObserver. com.
By MICHAEL LETENDRE