By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – For nearly twenty-eight minutes, the Bristol Eastern boys basketball squad was cruising against Naugatuck Valley League challenger Watertown on Friday, December 29 in a non-conference affair.
But the Lancers defense struggled to make stops to end the game, leading to the program’s first loss of the campaign as the Indians scooped up a 54-49 win from the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium in Bristol.
Limited to 38-percent shooting over the evening, Watertown had answers late – leading to a 8-0 run to turn a 42-40 deficit into a 48-42 push with 2:04 left to play.
“We were bad on defense tonight,” said Eastern coach Bunty Ray. “There’s no way to sugar-coat it. We allowed too much penetration. We allowed second chance opportunities in pivotal situations. We were just bad on defense and we could never get ourselves going on offense because of how we played on defense.”
Eastern (2-1) never led by more than five points as the contest saw nine lead changes and five ties.
Each and every time Eastern came up with a steal or a loose ball that led to a hoop, the outfit was never able to string together offense which would have pushed out the lead.
“The offense created the energy and we had a little spurt where we had a steal, we got a basket. We got a rebound, we got a basket. But we were out of sorts,” said Ray. “We didn’t get the ball inside enough.”
Nate Silva canned career-highs of 17 points – on five 3-pointers – while Mac Goulet had a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Cam Tate (six points, nine assists, three steals) was smooth all game long, Tyler Mason (two points, six rebounds, two assists) made contributions while Ariza Kolloverja threw in six points and snared three rebounds over just eight minutes of action.
But Jake Lafferty – making his first ever career start in place of the injured Carter Dziedzic – answered the challenge with seven points and six rebounds.
“I’ve got to give Jake credit,” said Ray of Lafferty. “I thought he played really well for his first [career] start. Mac was trying too. Our guards weren’t giving him the ball when they needed to and then when they got the ball, they didn’t kick out in situations. We just looked like a team that was out of sync which is to be expected.”
Twenty-one turnovers led to doom and demise for the home squad as many of those gaffs were of the self-inflicted variety, leading to lost offensive chances.
“Part of that was we didn’t work hard to run our outlets and when we got the ball, it was one guy trying to beat the press,” said Ray. “We could have beaten that press as a team, we could have advanced the ball and moved it a little bit better, and we could have gotten easier looks. But I saw guys floating to the corners, they weren’t getting lay-ups against that press which we should have.”
“We should just have gotten the ball on the strong side, reversed it, and went off to the races but guys were hesitant tonight. It was something that I haven’t seen this year yet [and] I hope it was just one game.”
Sam St. Hilaire and Josh Maisto paced Watertown with 12 points apiece.
Eastern took more free throws than Watertown (17-7) while out-rebounding the visitors by seven (39-32).
Silva was on fire to start the contest, hitting three 3’s over the first 3:26 of the game, while one final first period hoop from Kolloverja saw Eastern lead 11-10 after eight minutes.
The edge flip-flopped over the second period as neither program could take the advantage on the scoreboard.
Eastern went up by five early, lost the lead but then gained it back before Watertown’s Moni Jusufi canned a three to knot things up at 24-24 going into intermission.
The Indians scored just eight third period points but with one stanza to go, the home squad was holding just a 35-32 push.
Watertown grabbed the lead early in the fourth but Silva canned two free throws, later draining another 3, as Eastern led 40-37 with under five minutes to play
Goulet flipped in a lay-up with 3:23 left to put Eastern up by two (42-40) but once Watertown went on its 8-0 run, an offensive rebound and put-back by St. Hilaire gave the Indians a 48-42 edge with 2:04 remaining.
But that cushion nearly disappeared and when a Tate steal led to a Kolloverja lay-in, it was just a 48-46 game with 1:20 left.
However, Maisto scored six straight points – including two clutch free throws to ice the event with 13.9 seconds showing on the clock – as Watertown came away with a big 54-49 win on the road.
“It came down to running our routes and getting some effort but we didn’t have the effort we needed to on both ends” of the floor said Ray.