By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The best way for a young team to start out a scholastic season is to wrangle up a victory on opening night.
And that’s exactly what the Bristol Eastern boys basketball team did on Monday, Dec. 21 as the squad turned away a scrappy effort from Rocky Hill – nabbing a 71-61 win from the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium in Bristol.
It was the opener for both teams and a very entertaining contest from start to finish.
The key for the Lancers was getting everyone involved and the level of unselfishness – culminating in 19 assists on 24 field goals – was definitely a factor in the Lancers’ winning effort.
Eastern’s sophomore sensation Tyler Arbuckle made one of the best debuts for a second year player in program history as he dropped in a game-high 24 points, 14 rebounds and two assists in a big time effort.
Tri-Captain Tyler Tefoe was disqualified in just 18 minutes of action but he still came away with 16 points, hitting all six of his field goals while snaring six rebounds and blocking a couple of shots before fouling out.
Darieyn Tate just missed out on a triple double (10 points, eight rebounds, eight assists) while teammate Nate Hickey played a tough brand of defense while also collecting 11 points, three rebounds, and five assists over a tough 28 minute stint.
And then point guard Mike Rivera cashed in on four points, five rebounds, and four assists in his first ever varsity start.
Also for the Lancers, Tom Gonzales played just five minutes but notched four points and three rebounds, Rajon Collins added two points and two rebounds while Dante Collins, Riley Mason, and Justin Borgelin all saw action during the showdown.
“It was great balance,” said Eastern coach Mike Giovinazzo. “There was an inside-outside presence all night. We drove to the basket, we posted up and scored. We went to the offensive boards and when Rocky Hill started collapsing, we kicked out and made shots. Any time you’re balanced on offense, you’re going to be tough to defend.”
Rocky Hill also had contributions up and down the line-up with Alex Sikorski hitting for 17 points and Nick Casiano adding 15 to the losing effort and the Lancers couldn’t shake the squad until the final horn sounded.
The Terriers raced out to a 6-4 edge in the contest but a 7-0 push by the Lancers – highlighted by an Arbuckle three – gave Eastern the lead for good at 11-6 with 4:21 left to play in the first period.
The Lancers couldn’t build upon that lead as a barrage of late three-pointers by the Terriers kept it close before Gonzales cashed in an offensive rebound and drilled a hoop right before the first period buzzer sounded as Eastern led 22-17 after one.
Hickey drilled a three early in the second frame but Rocky Hill continued to have answers, keeping things fairly close.
A conventional three-point play by Tim Rhouddou with 2:26 left before the half saw the Terriers hanging in it at 34-29.
Late in the fray, Tate hit a critical outside jumper while Sikorski slipped in a three at the buzzer and at intermission, Eastern was holding a slim 38-34 lead.
“At the half, we were up four and told the guys the second half is going to be the same as the first,” said Giovinazzo. “It’s going to be two teams, going at it, running their offense, knocking down shots, making plays. I told them ‘You’re just going to have keep your poise, keep your intensity for 16 more minutes.’”
“And they did a great job for a team that had one varsity starter returning. I thought they played with a great deal of poise.”
Eastern finally put a little separation between the squads to open the third stanza as Hickey found Tefoe for a lay-up, Arbuckle made a free throw, Rivera threw in a little baby hook and finally, the point guard found Tefoe for a quick drop in and with 5:11 left to go in the third, the Lancers surged to a 45-34 edge.
“As a coach, that’s what you strive for when you run an offense,” said Giovinazzo of the squad’s balance. “You want to try and get the ball in as many guy’s hands as possible so they do what they can do best.”
Rocky Hill continued to do just enough to hang around and before the completion of three quarters, two charity tosses from Arbuckle and a lay-up by Casiano ended the quarter with Eastern still on top 53-44.
Over the final period, the duo of Casiano and Sikorski did all they could to keep it a close game with hoops from all over the court but Arbuckle dropped in six straight points and with 4:43 left, the Lancers were in charge by a 62-53 push.
With time running out, Sikorski canned a three-pointer with 2:17 remaining but that was as close as the visitors would get the rest of the way – trailing by a 66-59 score.
The contest became a foul affair soon after, with Rocky Hill forcing Eastern to the free throw line, as the Lancers sank five of seven attempts and on makes by Hickey and Arbuckle, the Eastern cushion grew to 71-59 with 28 seconds remaining.
“This team, you know, it’s a team that’s got a lot of weapons. It really does,” said Giovinazzo of Eastern. “We’re going to be tough to defend.”
When the final horn sounded, the 10-point victory was a satisfying tally and while the squad still has a lot of work to do, Giovinazzo and crew will take an opening night 71-61 win over Rocky Hill any night of the week.
“Our biggest problem is going to be defending other people,” said Giovinazzo of the upcoming season. “We have to make sure that we can put the clamps on other people. Sometimes, we get a little lax on defense but for a first game with four new players on varsity, I’m very pleased.”
NOTES…In the JV game, Rocky Hill won in overtime 54-49 in a very exciting finish. Eastern freshman Carter Dziedzic led the charge with a game high 21 points while Gonzales scored eight in the losing effort. Right before the final horn in regulation, Eastern’s Camryn Tate took the last attempt of the fourth period for the Lancers. He made a baseline drive as time was about to expire, charged through the paint and threw up a reserve lay-up that all but fell into the goal for Eastern, forcing an extra session.
By MICHAEL LETENDRE