By MICHAEL LETENDRE
SOUTHINGTON – Another close one got away from the Bristol Eastern boys basketball team on Saturday, Jan. 14 as the Lancers squandered a late lead and fell at Southington by a 40-37 final in Central Connecticut Conference Interdivisional tilt.
It was the fifth straight loss by the Lancers, falling to 3-7 at the halfway point of the campaign, while the Knights moved to 4-4 on the year getting their second straight come-from-behind victories in two tries.
Eastern led 36-35 with 3:47 to go but a steal saw the Knights recapture the lead.
The Lancers managed to tie it over two minutes later but when Brendan Taylor (nine points) canned two free throws, Southington led 39-37 and never trailed again.
However, that wasn’t the story of the game.
With 6:36 to play in the second period, Eastern trailed 12-2 and were struggling for answers offensively.
“Our execution was once again bad in the first quarter,” said Eastern coach Bunty Ray. “It’s like we spot the other team 10 points every single game before we wake up. And that’s just leadership and preparation…I’m at a loss for words when I watch us run our sets and get nothing.”
Eastern’s Rod Jenkins led all players with 22 points while also collecting six rebounds and four assists.
Jake Violette pushed in 10 points and two rebounds, Tommy Gonzales added six rebounds and three blocked shots but did not score, Tyler Mason had six rebounds while Carter Dziedzic – who left the game late in the third period with a stomach bug – did not play in the fourth tilt and scored two points in 16 minutes of action.
Nate Silva played an important eight minutes for Eastern off the bench and contributed a three-pointer and nabbed two rebounds.
Southington big man Jeremy Mercier was sensational with 16 points and countless offensive rebounds.
His boarding helped the Knights to a 10-plus rebounding edge in the contest (35-25).
“That’s hunger,” said Ray of the opponent’s offensive rebounds. “That’s a team on a winning streak versus a team that’s on a losing streak. And that’s just because [one team] knowing how to win versus a team that’s trying to figure out how to win again.”
Southington’s Mike DeFeo canned eight points and ended the third period with a near half-court three-pointer as the ball hit the back of the rim, went up, and cooly fell into the hoop as the home team held a six-point edge with eight minutes to play.
Eastern managed just an 11-percent shooting clip in trailing 8-2 after one period of play and, in the midst of a 10-0 run – Mercier hit a jumper that gave the Knights its ten-point lead midway through the second.
The Lancers then went on a 12-4 jaunt with Jenkins hitting six straight points, his last lay-up chopping the deficit to 16-14 with 1:43 before intermission.
But Southington scored the final four points of the half to carry a 20-14 edge into intermission.
The Knights led by seven early in the third but consecutive three-point plays by Violette and Jenkins made it a 21-20 contest and Eastern could sniff the lead.
The teams traded hoops before Silva came off the bench to can a three and with 3:44 to go in the third, it was all tied up at 25-25.
Southington, however, ended the third period with two three-pointers – including the bomb by DeFeo – as the Knights led 33-27 with the fourth quarter looming.
“We started off well in the beginning of the season and you could see the energy,” said Ray. “I think tonight, looking at the body language and looking at our team, we’re almost waiting for something bad to happen rather than making something good happen.”
Southington stretched out the edge to five again but when Violette and Jenkins zipped in back-to-back threes, with 3:47 remaining in regulation, it was a brand new game.
Eastern, getting the ball back, then went into stall mode but a steal and lay-up by DeFeo made it a 37-36 contest in Southington’s favor.
“We could have salted that game away with the lead,” said Ray. “We worked to get the lead, we had the lead. There was a lot of time left but for me to take the clock down, then turn it over and give up an easy look in transition when really in the half-court, we were doing a good job, you know, I should have called a time out there.”
“We looked a little disorganized at the end but you hope they’re going to make the play there because Southington didn’t look like they were in sync…all we had to do was rotate the ball once, reverse it, look in and we would have gotten something.”
Both team missed chances to score but when Violette kicked in one-of-two free throws with 1:21 left, it was all tied up at 37-37.
Eastern could not get the lead back from there and had to play the foul game as Southington was in the 1-and-1 bonus due to fouls.
Taylor canned his two charity tosses, Violette missed a three and when DeFeo hit the first of two free throws, Southington led by three, 40-37, with 47.2 seconds remaining.
But DeFeo missed the second attempt, Jenkins nabbed the rebound and Eastern was looking for a 3 to tie it up.
Eastern coughed the ball up but Defeo traveled with 22.7 seconds left to give the ball right back.
Jenkins missed a three, the Knights got the rebound, and it looked as Southington had escaped the jam.
But Silva stole it and with 6.2 second to go, Eastern had one last shot at it.
This time, Jenkins steam-rolled to the Lancers’ side of the hardwood, saw Violette out of the corner of his eye, and threw the ball to his senior teammate.
Violette was forced into throwing up an NBA three-point attempt and when it fell short, the Knights escaped with a three-point victory.
“Credit Southington. Our game plan was actually go inside,” said Ray. “It ended up not working out. They came in and we didn’t make a secondary read to throw the ball back out.”
“We did have shots…we missed a bunch too. Those goes in, I’m probably not as mad as I am now.”
SOUTHINGTON 40, BRISTOL EASTERN 37
from Southington High School
Bristol Eastern (3-7)
BRISTOL EASTERN (37): Tyler Mason 0 0 0, Roderick Jenkins 7 7 22, Jacob Violette 3 2 10, Carter Dziedzic 1 0 2, Thomas Gonzales 0 0 0, Justin Blake, 0 0 0, Nate Silva 1 0 3, Ariza Kolloverja 0 0 0, Cameron Tate 0 0 0, Mac Goutlet 0 0 0. Totals 12 9 37.
SOUTHINGTON (40): Mike DeFeo 3 1 8, Brendan Taylor 3 2 9, Mike Mauro 1 0 2, Jeremy Mercier 7 2 16, Tim O’Shea 1 1 3, Andrew Lohneiss 1 0 2, Colin Burdette 0 0 0, Jack Herms 0 0 0. Totals 16 6 40.
Three-point goals: Violette (BE) 2, Jenkins (BE), Sliva (BE), DeFeo (S), Taylor (S)
Records: Southington 3-4 overall; Bristol Eastern 3-7