By MICHAEL LETENDRE
DERBY – The Bristol Eastern boys basketball team played two very different halves against an athletic squad from Derby on Saturday, Jan. 27.
The first half saw the Lancers play some of its best defensive basketball of the season while over the second, the Red Raiders simply enforced its will on the game – eventually turning a double-digit deficit into a slim advantage to end the showdown.
The Red Raiders outscored Eastern 32-13 over the second half of play and eventually scooped up a 43-38 victory from Derby High School in a Central Connecticut Conference/Naugatuck Valley League challenge game.
The win propelled the Red Raiders to .500 (6-6) on the season while Eastern fell to 4-8 overall.
With the loss, the Lancers were 1-2 in games that were decided between five and nine points this season. Eastern also moved to 0-2 against teams from the NVL this year.
Eastern’s defense over the first half was on-point as the Red Raiders missed 17-of-21 field goals while the Lancers shot 46-percent overall and from 3-point land during that same stretch.
In the second half, Derby rebounded, picked up the defensive intensity, shot 12-of-27 from the field (44.4-percent), and forced Eastern into mistakes – turning those miscues into lay-ups and buckets for points.
“In the first half, we were able to dictate the tempo by getting stops,” said Eastern coach Bunty Ray. “Once Derby started making baskets, they jacked up their pressure. I was really upset on how we handled, to me, what was an unorganized press. All you had to do was reserve the ball and make a play in the open court.”
“But I didn’t have guys in the open court to make plays today.”
Derby big man Isaiah Walker finished around the hoop throughout the game, capturing a game-high 18 points while teammate Davont Addison (11 points) canned all three of his 3-pointers over the second half of play.
Eastern’s Mac Goulet led his team’s offensive charge with 12 points and five rebounds while Nate Silva hit all 11 of his points over a six-minute stretch of the second period.
Jake Lafferty played well in the pivot, capturing five points, five rebounds, two assists, and played solid defense on Walker.
Camryn Tate added a three-pointer, five rebounds, and three assists, and Tyler Mason had two points and four rebounds.
Brendon Gayle had three points; Bryce Curtin added a hoop while Matt D’Amato nabbed two rebounds to lead the Eastern charge.
Derby was limited to just one shot on most of its possessions over the first 16 minutes of play and Eastern’s deliberate pace frustrated the home squad.
The Red Raiders scored just three points in the first period while Mason kicked in a floater and Goulet canned two lay-ups to put Eastern in front 6-3 after eight minutes of action.
After a three by Tate, Walker hit a short jumper and with 3:03 left before the half, Derby was hanging around but still trailed 14-8.
From that point, Eastern ended the half with an 11-3 burst as Lafferty connected on five quick points – including a three – and Silva drained two blistering three-pointers and at intermission, the Lancers held an imposing 25-11 edge.
The tempo then changed out of the break as Derby’s athleticism came to the forefront, opened the third quarter with an 8-2 push and with 5:36 left in the period, it was a 27-19 game.
“We missed a lot of lay-ups,” said Ray. “They had a distinct size and athletic advantage on us. I don’t know if the kids were going into the lane expecting [calls from the officials] and forcing ill-advised shots or if they were just not going strong enough. It was just a lot of lay-ups out there that if we went strong to the basket, and they extended the court, we would have been fine.”
A Goulet hoop made it a double-figure game again but a 7-0 run from the Red Raiders – capped by steal and lay-in by Jahwan Cody – chopped the deficit to 29-26 with 3:26 left.
Curtin answered with a baseline jumper and later, Gayle hit a conventional three-point play but off one more Walker hoop, Eastern’s cushion was just 34-31 with one quarter to go.
Eastern was limited to only four points in the fourth and final period – the fewest points the Lancers had scored in a quarter all season long – and off a lay-up from Addison with 6:32 remaining to play, Derby reclaimed the lead at 35-34.
However, Eastern’s defense was still hanging tough, allowing Derby just 12 points of its own in the fourth, and when Goulet dropped in another lay-up off a swoop to the hoop, the Lancers were back on top at 36-35 with 4:20 to play.
With 3:38 left, Walker canned a three-point play, putting the Red Raiders ahead for good at 38-36, and off a steal of Goulet, the home squad was looking to make it a two-possession game.
“They were some balls they took right out of our hands,” said Ray. “We had them and then we didn’t. So that’s on us. We have to go get loose balls. We were getting the loose balls and hustling a little bit more in the first half. In the second half, momentum swung, and we didn’t know how to answer the bell.”
“I could point to three or four balls they just took from us. That just means you want it more and if you want it more, you’re going to win the game and that’s what happened. They wanted it a little bit more than we did.”
But Addison later missed a 3 and while both squads were coming up empty, it was still just a two-point game with less than two minutes to play.
Walker and Goulet then exchanged hoops but with a minute to go, Derby was clinging to a two-point edge at 40-38.
And then off a steal by Goulet, Eastern had a couple changes to draw even or retake the lead in the affair but just came up short both times.
Silva was set up for a 3 in front of the Lancers’ bench but missed it and off an offensive rebound, Gayle’s 17-footer – that would have tied things up – rimmed in-and-out and on a tie-up, a jump-ball was called and Derby had the possession arrow their its favor.
Cody was quickly fouled and with 12 seconds left, he hit both charity shots to make it a two-possession game and on one final steal by Derby, Shymar Robinson dropped in one-of-two foul shots to end the game – propelling the home team to a 43-38 win over the Lancers.
“We were kind of front-runners there for a little bit,” said Ray. “Things were going well, and we were playing well. Guys were knocking down shots, they were hustling. Then, suddenly, Derby started punching back a little bit, now you’ve got to answer it and we couldn’t.”
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObserver.com.