By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The Bristol Eastern boys basketball squad refused to quit against Bulkeley on Thursday, Jan. 25, even as it appeared the Lancers were headed to a seventh consecutive loss.
Trailing 37-21 with 7:52 left in regulation, the Lancers went on a blazing 21-3 run, eventually forcing overtime and in the end, Eastern was back at the pay window.
Tied at 42-42 at the end of regulation, the Lancers outscored the Bulldogs 16-13 in overtime as the outfit turned back Bulkeley 58-55 from the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium in Bristol.
The win propelled Eastern to 4-7 overall on the season while Bulkeley fell to 3-8.
Eastern turned on the defensive intensity as the Bulldogs were limited to just eight fourth period points, leading to an extra four minutes of play and an eventual Lancers’ win.
“We work hard every day in practice and the boys in the locker room always give 110-percent,” said Eastern forward Mac Goulet. “We always fight until the end. We never give up. That’s how Eastern’s always been.”
Goulet was sensational, pumping in a career-high 27 points – 10 of which came in overtime – and simply hit big shot after shot, canning several lay-ups and connecting on 9-of-14 field goals overall.
“I told Mac [after] he missed his first lay-up, he missed a free throw and I said ‘you’re going to have a big night tonight because you can go in the middle of that defense and create and be yourself,’” said Eastern coach Bunty Ray. “And every night now, Mac is starting to get better. He’s doing things we need him to do to create shots for other people. If they’re going to spread the floor, then we’re going to need somebody who’s going to be inside. He’s taken that roll on.”
This contest saw Bulkeley dominate for three quarters as Eastern’s offense was late to get on track.
But when the Lancers went to its defense, making stops, it started fast fast break opportunity and the offense exploded.
Some of the credit belonged to sophomore Brendon Gayle as he collected a career-high 12 points, four rebounds, two assists, and a team-high three steals as he was everywhere on court in the fourth quarter and overtime session.
“Down the stretch, obviously Brendon’s Gayle’s athleticism in a wide open game changed the game,” said Ray of Gayle.” Some of his shot selection can drive you crazy as a coach but that’s part of the learning process. As a sophomore, to go in there and drive it to the basket like that and get us some hoops to get that pressure off us was big.”
The second half was night-and-day for the home squad.
Eastern canned half of its shots over the third, fourth, and overtime sessions (15-of-30) after a chilly 3-of-21 start to the contest.
Bulkeley did not commit a first period turnover but by the end of the game, thanks to intense Eastern defensive pressure, the unit ended up with 17 miscues overall – five more than the Lancers committed.
Eastern’s 1-2-2 defense, spearheaded by Gayle off the bench, hounded Bulkeley into 11 turnovers over the final 12 minutes of play, quickly turning gaffes and goofs into points.
“I have to give my assistant coaches the credit on that one,” said Ray of the defense. “They were in my ear all night about that press even when we were up and they believed in it. The kids believed in it. It created turnovers. Obviously, we have match-up problems so we have to create a little tempo.”
Bulkeley attacked the hoop with zest over the first period, going up by eight points midway through stanza before 3s from Elijah Parent and Silva made it a 13-7 game after eight minutes.
A total of 11 points were scored between the teams in the second quarter as Goulet dropped in all four of Eastern’s points but ice cold shooting by the home outfit saw the Bulldogs lead 20-11 at the half.
“If you looked at the first couple quarters, it’s more frustration,” said Ray. “You can’t play frustrated. We’ve had a lot of adversity. We’ve had a lot of things we’ve had to deal with and I think our biggest opponent has been ourselves that we needed to get over.”
The deficit reached 16 in the third period and even as Goulet dropped in a hoop with eight seconds to go, the Bulldogs were firmly in command at 34-21.
Scott kicked in a three to make it a 16-point game again with eight seconds gone in the fourth but within a span of 1:58, Eastern had chopped 10 points off the deficit to make it a 37-31 game with 5:51 left in regulation – thanks to that 1-2-2 defense.
“We’ve been playing that (defense),” said Goulet. “The coaches didn’t really know if they wanted to spring that on [Bulkeley]. But we all know what we had to do and we had to get it done like that. “
Goulet then found Tyler Mason for a lay-up to make it a four-point game but when Edwin flipped in a basket and free throw, Bulkeley’s lead grew out to 40-33 with 3:38 in the fourth.
“We might give up a hoop here or there but at the end, we were on the plus side on a lot of those defensive possessions.”
Empty Bulkeley possessions eventually led to Lancers’ free throws and after Silva and Goulet made two apiece, it was a 40-37 game with 2:11 to play, making it a one possession affair.
Both teams exchanged misses but with 49 seconds in regulation, Mason dropped in a hoop – plus a foul – and off his free throw make, the game was all tied up at 40-40.
And then Gayle intercepted a pass, was fouled, and earned two free throws and with 40.3 seconds left, Eastern lead for the first time since early in the first period, 42-40.
“The kids did an outstanding job in their drops and we were able to get in the way, stall them just enough and get enough turnovers to actually give us an opportunity to climb back in it,” said Ray.
But Scott hit a lay-up with 26 seconds in regulation and Tate just rimmed out a late, long range 3-pointer at the buzzer and at 42-42, four additional minutes were needed to declare a victor.
Washington hit two free throws to open the overtime session but quickly, Eastern gained control of the game.
Goulet dropped in two lay-ups and canned a couple free throws and Gayle connected on four consecutive free throws and with 1:40 to play, Eastern’s edge reached 52-46 – its biggest lead of the game.
Late in the showdown, Scott hit a lay-up to chop the deficit to two but Gayle answered with a hoop and off another Bulkeley miss, Goulet made two foul shots to stretch the edge to 58-52 with 6.9 seconds left.
Cirieros hit a 3 at the buzzer but it wasn’t enough as Eastern won a hard-fought 58-55 contest to get within four games of state tournament qualification.
“Now, we’re just looking at win number five, wherever it may be,” said Ray. “Obviously, every night in this league is tough. Every day is a different match up but I think that’s the biggest problem for us. It took us half a season to reinvent ourselves and to reinvent yourself when you’re losing a lot of players and kept people in certain roles, kept people playing with confidence, it takes a little time, and you hope you can do it quick.”
“But, like I said, the losses start to pile up and all of a sudden, you start to doubt yourself. [But] I didn’t see any doubt after the game today.”