By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – After overtime was needed to decide the last city series boys basketball game between Bristol Central and Bristol Eastern, what would the rematch bring on Monday, Feb. 20?
Well, it was a 32 minute war, filled with all the usual emotion, tension, and guile and even a flagrant foul and a couple of technical fouls mixed in before an eventual winner was declared.
And all that came together in front of another hot crowd as the Rams came out on top – downing the Lancers 68-62 in a CCC South Blue Division clash from the Charles C. Marsh Gymnasium in Bristol.
With the win, Central moved to 10-10 on the year, completing the regular season at .500, while the Lancers fell to 5-14 with one game remaining on its schedule.
However, 10 lead changes and five ties highlighted another intense Mum City battle before Central finally took control of the tilt.
The Rams trailed by 11 early in the third period before a 16-4 burst gave Central a 41-40 edge after three completed frames.
Central outscored Eastern 16-6 over that fateful third period of play before the Rams had to dig in again to re-take the lead.
“We took advantage of some of Eastern’s younger kids getting minutes,” said Central coach Tim Barrette. “They turned the ball over in this atmosphere [and] it’s very difficult [and] so did we in the first half. Listen, we couldn’t make a lay-up in the first half.”
That poor shooting led to an ice cold 9-of-36 clip by the Rams over the first half of action and when those shots did not fall, Eastern’s Rod Jenkins made them pay on the other end – collecting 16 first half points as the Lancer rode up a 34-25 push at intermission.
“We had Rod making baskets and I thought everybody else was sort of contributing too,” said Eastern coach Bunty Ray. “We had a nice inside-outside flow with different guys contributed to the offense. There was a nice balance. We were feeding off our defense and everything was clicking.”
“But there’s two halves in basketball.”
After Central went on that third period scoring binge, Eastern countered and off a three-pointer from Carter Dziedzic (16 points, six rebounds, four assists) with 5:42 to play, Eastern regained the edge at 46-44.
However, Central’s defense shut down the Lancers offense from there as Jenkins – being face-guarded and double teamed by the Rams throughout the second half – and the squad was bottled up offensively.
The home team then went on a 11-0 run to capture a 55-46 edge with 3:07 left in the fray and Eastern never got any closer than four points the rest of the way.
“We were prepared for it, we just didn’t execute,” said Ray of the defensive tactics on Jenkins. “Under the lights, you have to be able to execute under pressure and it’s something we talked about, something we worked on. Rod gets special attention all the time. Guys have to step-up.”
Jenkins ended the showdown with 23 points, six rebounds, six assists, and four steals.
But it was a dogfight from the start as a Jenkins lay-in made it a 9-8 game in Eastern’s favor with 2:17 left in the first period before Central went on a bit of a dash.
Isaiah Miller (five points) found Jaekwon Spencer (team high 18 points) for a three-pointer and when Alex Bernier (11 points) canned a hoop with 1:28 to play in the first, Central built its lead up to five at 14-9.
Central stretched it out to five again to open the second period on a Mike Lemke three (11 points) before the squads began to trade hoops until the 4:13 mark of the second frame.
That’s when Miller began to “chat” with Dziedzic (it probably wasn’t about dinner plans) and both players were assessed technical fouls.
Miller was forced to leave the game via foul trouble and Eastern ended the half with a 14-0 jaunt to make it a nine-point deficit for Central.
“They pushed that lead out when Isaiah went out with that second foul,” said Barrette. “And I told our guys at halftime, the first game of the year against Maloney, we were down nine [at the half]. I said we were in the same situation and what did I tell [the players] then? They said ‘coach, we’re going to win.’ I said we’re going to win tonight too.”
“I said we’ll cut this down, we’ll tie it by the beginning of the fourth and then we’ll pull away and that’s exactly what we were able to do tonight, fortunately.”
But to end the second quarter, Jenkins scored 8 of the 14 points, the Lancers’ defense made stops and Eastern went into intermission with a 34-25 cushion in hand.
“Part of that was what we were doing defensively, part of that was they [Central] were flat out missing shots,” said Ray. “They got some offensive rebounds, some put-backs didn’t go their way. I went into halftime and said [to my guys] ‘listen, they’re not going to miss shots forever, not at home.’ Of course, Central came out and made some dagger threes in the second half. But we stayed the course.”
“We kind of fizzled more on offense.”
After Eastern’s Tom Gonzales (six points, six rebounds, two blocks) made a hook shot to open the third frame, Spencer made two straight conventional three-point plays and when Bernier canned a free throw, it was a two-possession game as Central trailed 36-32 with 6:08 to go.
Eastern’s Tyler Mason and Dziedzic added points to the board that stretched the lead back out to 40-32 but Central ended the period with a 9-0 burst to capture a one-point lead at 41-40 with eight minutes remaining.
“We were right there, we felt, all night,” said Barrette. “We couldn’t get the stop we needed so when we finally started getting stops in the third and fourth quarter, we were able to widen the gap a little bit.”
And Central stretched it out to four off a Collins three-ball but the last 3-pointer from Dziedzic gave Eastern its last edge in the contest as 46-44 before Central made one last run to put things out of reach.
A blazing 11-0 jaunt – capped by two charity shots Spencer – made it a 55-46 contest with 3:07 to play and was simply too much for Eastern to come back from.
“For the most part, our problem was our line-ups,” said Ray. “We had to shift defensive line-ups and then we have to go to guys that we were offensive-minded to where we were kind of going back-and-fourth with the flow there. We kind of got caught. Some guys that helped us on defense really don’t have the skill-set on offense and vise-versa.”
“When we were trying to make plays at the end there, the wrong guys were coming and obviously, you only get so many timeouts and stoppages.”
The Lancers had to play the foul game late but Central was up to the task from the line.
Central kicked in seven-of-nine free throws at one point but Jenkins canned a three and when Nate Silva (nine points, three three-pointers) drained his last three of the outing, it chopped the deficit down to four with less than 10 seconds remaining.
“Eastern made some great shots at the end. Deep shots,” said Barrette. “But I told my guys we weren’t going to do what we did last time [against Eastern]. We didn’t take any bad shots this time. We took lay-ups and we took free throws and we made them foul us like we were supposed to.”
Eastern simply ran out of time and when Central canned its final two free throws, the celebration was on as the Rams wrangled up a 68-62 decision to even the season series at 1-1 this year.
“I tip my cap to coach Barrette,” said Ray. “He did a great job. He made his adjustments. We really should have countered it but I think that’s why we are where we are this season. We have to be more than one player. Some guys improved but to get to the next level and beat athletic teams like Central, you’re going to have to improve your skills.”
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObserver.com.