By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BETHEL – The Bristol Central boys basketball season came to an end on Friday, March 4 as Bethel’s Mike Hogan banked in the game-winning shot at the buzzer, posting the squad to a 49-48 win in a Class L state tournament play-in game from Bethel High School.
With the victory, the Mustangs (9-12) were slotted into the No. 31 position of the tournament and battled second ranked Newington (21-1) in first round action.
But the Rams (8-13) came to fight and at points of the game, that’s exactly what is what.
It was a physical affair with plenty of back and forth jawing between the players on the floor and towards the end of the game, when stops had to made, Central was up to the task – taking a late lead – and almost pulled it out.
“It was a fist-fight for 32 minutes,” said Central coach Tim Barrette. “Those were the words to describe that game. From start to finish, that was a fist-fight.”
After drawing even with Bethel at 24-24 with 5:19 to go in the third frame, the Mustangs’ Will Daniels went wild – notching 13 straight points to open the quarter – and off a three-pointer from Hogan (15 points), it was back to a nine point deficit with eighty seconds to play in the period.
And once again, the Rams had to battle to odds late and when Hogan threw in a lay-up with 2:43 remaining in the game, it was a 45-37 set-back the visitors eventually overcame.
It was nearly brilliant as Bethel missed free throw after free throw and using a late 11-2 run – capped by a Jamil Hornesby lay-up and a go ahead floater in the lane by Jaekwon Spencer – Central surged in front by a 48-47 push with nine seconds to play.
“We fought, we came all the way back,” said Barrette. “We get a big shot by Jaekwon and honestly, we got them to miss the first [game-winning shot]. We just didn’t finish the play. I mean the kid [Hogan] made a big shot, a senior made a big shot at the end of the game and we didn’t make the play. But I can’t fault my guys for effort. That sure as heck wasn’t because of effort.”
Spencer led the charge with 16 points, eight rebounds, and a couple of steals while Jamil Hornesby added 12 points, six rebounds, and six assists.
And to say Tamir Hornesby didn’t have one of his best games in a Central uniform would be a vast understatement.
In his final game for Central, he canned five-of-nine field goals for 13 points, nabbed two steals and on the boards, the senior finished the contest with 16 rebounds and got his hands on six or more potential rebounds as he battled anything in a Bethel uniform with zest and determination.
“Unbelievable,” said Barrette of Tamir’s final performance. “I wish I had him for four years, that’s all I can stay about him.”
Isaiah Miller came off the bench with three points, two rebounds, and three steals, while senior A.J. Pahl ended his career with two points and four rebounds.
Aaron Collins dropped in two points and three rebounds while senior Jalen Benoit and Mike Lemke each made appearance for the Rams.
Central couldn’t have shot the ball any worse to open the game, missing 24 of 28 field goals – hitting just 16-of-51 overall (31.4 percent) – but canned 14 free throws and made life difficult for the Mustangs for thirty-two minutes.
Central out-rebounded Bethel 46-27 and while the Rams racked up fouls – leading to Mustangs’ free throw shooting opportunities – but the home team missed 11 of 15 charity shots and in the end, those losses began to mount up.
Bethel couldn’t shake Central early and when Spencer canned his only three of the game, the visitors were trailing just 8-7 with 2:33 remaining in the first period.
But from there, the Mustangs surged in front via a 9-0 jaunt and when Daniels put in back-to-back lay-ups, Bethel led by ten at 17-7 with 6:49 remaining in the second tilt.
The Hornesby boys then teamed up to score eight of Central’s next 10 points to end the half and when Tamir canned two free throws and Jamil added another, Bethel’s edge was just 21-17 entering intermission.
Trailing by seven midway through the third period, the Rams went on a 7-0 run to notch the score at 24-24 as Jamil Hornesby dropped in a charity toss, Collins added two of his own and when Spencer put in one of his own missed shots, it was all even with 5:19 to play in the frame.
The deficit was stretched out to nine late in the third but to close out the quarter, Spencer jacked up another floater that fell through and when Benoit missed a long three with only a second left, Jamil Hornesby grabbed the rebound and popped in a hoop at the buzzer and with eight minutes to play, Central was down just six at 38-32.
Miller drained a three from the top of the key to open the fourth and with 7:44 left in the fray, it was a one possession game at 38-35.
Bethel continued to be aggressive and make late hoops and when Hogan slipped in a hoop in the paint with 2:43 remaining, the deficit grew to eight (45-37).
That’s when Central’s defense went into overdrive and Bethel missed several late free throws that could have stretched its lead.
And that meant the Rams were ready to take the lead off one final charge.
Jamil found Tamir Hornesby for a lay-up and with 2:05 remaining, it was a two-possession game at 45-39.
Central then played the foul game, getting Chris Towey to miss one of two free throws, and when Tamir Hornesby put in a miss with 1:06 left, the Rams were trailing just 46-41.
And quickly after that, a critical three-point play got the Rams with two after Towey missed the front end of a one-and-one situation.
Jamil Hornesby quickly marched to the foul line on the ensuing play, made one free throw, missed the second but Pahl zipped around to grab the rebound and when his lay-up found pay dirt, the Rams trailed 46-44 with 49.6 seconds showing on the clock.
Central then exchanged a Matt Marx free throw for a Jamil Hornesby lay-in and off a Central time out, the visitors were down one, 47-46, with 34.8 seconds left.
The fouling tactics worked as Mike Walters missed two straight foul shots and, as Central was making its move offensively, Spencer attacked the hoop in the lane.
He banked in his floater with 7.5 seconds left and – for the first time since the 6:38 mark of the first period, the Rams held the lead – this time at 48-47.
Inexplicably, time was added to the clock during the timeout – 1.5 seconds to be exact, the second time during the fourth quarter of the game additional time was added to the clock – and Bethel was looking to end the contest with a dagger three-point bomb, now with nine seconds to play.
The set-up was going to Bethel freshmen Chris Towey and he took his shot from the right side of the floor but missed it long.
From the left side, Hogan nabbed the loose ball, banked it off the glass and in at the buzzer – propelling the Mustangs to an improbable 49-48 win to advance in state tournament play as the crowd poured onto the floor in what turned into the start of a very chaotic scene moments after the completion of the play-in game.
The game was the final scholastic contest for Jalen Benoit, Andrew Marcantonio, A.J. Pahl, Tyshaun Rodriguez, and Tamir Hornesby.
“We just didn’t finish the play tonight,” said Barrette. “That’s a good team. They’re strong fundamentally, they’re strong, and we played their game.”
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObserver.com.
By MICHAEL LETENDRE