By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BERLIN – When your most talented basketball player gets hurt in the midst of a hotly contested game, one of two things can happen.
Either that squad rallies around that injured player, picking up the slack for their fallen comrade or the team simply falls apart, completely losing the momentum as the opposition scoops up the victory in the end.
Well, when Bristol Eastern boys hoop standout Carter Dziedzic hurt his shoulder – having to exit the game with 7:31 left to play against Berlin – with the Lancers holding an eight-point edge, the squad simply refused to yield the lead.
Eastern, without the benefit of a fourth period field goal, managed to stave off the Redcoats by nailing several critical free throws as the Lancers won in Berlin by a 53-49 final in a Central Connecticut Conference Southern division tilt on Tuesday, Dec. 19.
It was a big-time win in a hostile environment as Eastern – now 2-0 – held off the pesky Redcoats by playing excellent defense, maintaining the pace while draining 13-of-19 foul shots over the final 6:30 of the showdown to pick up a huge road victory.
“We kind of just kept our heads up,” said Eastern guard Nate Silva after the Dziedzic injury. “I mean, we didn’t freak out and we didn’t go crazy. We just kept our heads up and when we did that, everything worked out in the end.”
And it was all hands on deck after Dziedzic (19 points, six rebounds, four blocks in 22 minutes) fell awkwardly after rejecting his fourth shot of the game, injuring his shoulder.
Mac Goulet was outstanding as he canned a career-high 15 points to go along with eight rebounds and a couple of assists.
Silva hit two huge three-pointers over the second half, collecting 11 points overall, adding two assists and two steals while backcourt mate Camryn Tate played the entire game and his six points, five rebounds and five assists – as well as his slick 6-of-7 shooting from the free throw line – was a difference maker in the contest.
Tyler Mason provided his usual brand of leadership on the court, posting two points, four rebounds and three assists.
Rajon Collins (three rebounds), Adam Case, Ariza Kolloverja, and Jake Lafferty all made contributions to the winning effort.
Over the first 24:30 of the game, Eastern missed eight-of-10 free throws but buckled down at the charity stripe to end the contest, showing some poise and a little grit with several made foul shots late in the fray.
“Last year, we sat in that locker room and it was the last game of the year and we got beat in a game just like that,” said Eastern coach Bunty Ray. “It was tied at half time, [the opponent] came out with the same thing and difference is, we’re just not a year older, we’re a year better. We’re more poised. We’re stronger with the ball. We executed, and we talk about execution and that’s what it came down to.”
The Tate/Silva guard combination did well under the pressure as the Lancers committed only four total turnovers in the game and just one before Carter was hurt.
When good possessions were needed at crunch time, the guards provided that needed spark and lift.
“Credit Cam Tate and Nate Silva,” said Ray. “They handled the ball, played defense, grabbed some rebounds. It was pretty special to watch those guards who hadn’t done that in their career able to stand the physicality against those Berlin guard’s traps.”
Mike McCarthy came off the bench to score 19 points for Berlin (1-1) while Gianni Fanelli notched 11 to lead the home squad.
Berlin’s biggest lead in the contest was a 25-19 edge with 2:32 left to play in the second quarter.
But over the next eight minutes, Eastern went on a blazing 18-4 run and off a turnaround jumper from Goulet, a three by Silva and a bucket from Dziedzic, Eastern grabbed a 37-29 edge with 2:32 left in the third.
“Tyler Mason and Mac Goulet, I saw some leadership there out of them,” said Ray. “Give credit to the guards but I have to give those guys credit as well. [They’re] secondary ball-handlers that go in and when your primary ball-handlers need help and when your secondary can put it on the floor and get it to the basket, good things are going to happen.”
The game was a back-and-forth affair early and often as the lead switched hands five times in the first quarter before Berlin nabbed a 12-10 push after eight minutes of action.
Silva and McCarthy exchanged three-pointers to open the second period and then Dziedzic canned three straight hoops for the Lancers, his last of the bunch tying the game up at 19-19 with 4:03 to play in the first half.
The Redcoats then grabbed a six-point lead before Tate hit two foul shots and Dziedzic ended the half with a couple crisp field goals and at the break, it was a 25-25 contest and anyone’s game.
Goulet opened the third period with a quick lay-in – putting Eastern ahead for good in the game – and when Silva canned another 3, the early offense led to one of the Lancers’ best third periods in recent memory.
Both the offense and defense were flowing and when Dziedzic ended the period with a blistering three-point bomb, Eastern held a 40-31 cushion, outscoring Berlin 15-6 in the stanza and it looked as if the visitors were on the verge of letting the contest get away.
When Carter left the game with seven-plus minutes remaining in the fourth, Berlin tried to seize the momentum but could not.
Berlin’s Ryan Hyde hit a quick hoop to chop the deficit to six and when Eastern missed a hoop on the ensuing drive, the Redcoats had a chance to make it a single possession affair.
But Berlin missed a three-pointer and when Goulet canned two consecutive free throws, the Eastern lead was pushed out to 44-36 with 5:48 left in the game as the visitors answered each and every Redcoats’ challenge.
“With Carter on the floor and everybody in the spots they were in, everything was just flowing well,” said Ray. “Take Carter out if the mix, now all of a sudden, we’re starting to find some pieces. I’m glad those guys paid attention in practice. They didn’t get their reps, but a lot of those guys went in and did the things they needed to do.”
Eventually, that Eastern lead was pushed out to 10 points on multiple occasions and when Goulet made a late steal and hit one-of-two free throws, it was a 48-38 contest with 1:25 to play.
“We didn’t panic,” said Ray. “We spread the floor, we used our strength. We had to go to our bench. Some guys came in for some different assignment type basketball and what we were able to do was get some guys to the free throw line and make easy baskets when we needed to.”
However, it was going to be a dogfight to the end as Berlin used a 11-4 run – capped by NBA long three-pointers from Fanelli and McCarthy – to made it a 52-49 contest with nine seconds to play.
But even as Berlin made it messy to the final horn, the Kingstreeters showed some poise.
“Tip your cap to Berlin,” said Ray. “I’m proud of the way we handled pressure and the strength of our ball handlers [showed].”
Off that last Berlin three-pointer, Eastern let some time run off the clock before inbounding the ball then called a timeout to set up a play.
With 4.3 seconds left on the restart, Silva was fouled and hit an insurance free throw to make it a two-possession game.
And Berlin did not score again, falling to Eastern by four points.
“We did a heck of a job playing together,” said Ray. “One person is not going to win us the game. We’re going to need everybody to chip in and that’s what happened. I was a little nervous when Carter went down but that’s what you like to see. You like to see everyone else step up and that’s what you have when you have older kids.”
“When we were younger, we kind of looked around [and] people deferred.”
And the win was certainly a tribute to every player who took the floor for Eastern that night to help secure the win.
“It feels amazing,” said Silva of the victory. “Going 2-0 to start the season, we haven’t done that in a while. It’s just a great feeling.”