By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Last season, the Bristol Eastern boys basketball team earned its signature win over Bristol Central as Rod Jenkins found Tom Gonzales for a game-winning lay-up at the buzzer.
Fast forward to this season and the Lancers finally got its signature victory over Naugatuck Valley League challenger Derby on Saturday, Feb. 10.
This time around, with less than two seconds showing on the clock in a deadlocked game, Eastern’s Mac Goulet scored the game-winning basket as the Lancers scooped up a 44-42 victory from the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium in Bristol in a non-conference affair, moving to 6-11 overall on the campaign.
Derby (7-10) tied the score with 44 seconds left off an offensive tap and put-in by Shymar Robinson (eight points) made it 42-42 and the Lancers decided to hold the ball and go for the final shot.
Goulet (21 points, 11 rebounds, three steals) helped to dribble out the clock and with 12 seconds remaining, Eastern made its collective move.
Goulet found Tyler Mason (four points, six rebounds) who got the ball to Camryn Tate (four points, four rebounds, six assists) at the top of the key.
Tate slipped the ball into Bryce Curtin (four points, three rebounds, two blocks) who drew a double-team in the paint but quickly reversed the ball back out to Goulet.
With five seconds left, Goulet streaked to the hoop, attacking the left side of the basket, and his banker found pay dirt with less than two seconds remaining.
Time quickly ran out – propelling Eastern to an improbable two-point win.
“We’ve been running that play in practice,” said Goulet. “We knew if we just set up the right guys, Elijah [Parent] was hitting all night so they just sagged off, played for him. I got a line to drive and I just hit the lane.”
And Eastern had to make a bit of a comeback, down 32-26 with 6:35 left to play in the game, pulling out a come-from-behind victory.
“I’m excited for the kids,” said Eastern coach Bunty Ray. “It’s been a tough season and to watch guys come in and do that, a little excitement in the end, a total team contribution on both sides of the floor. We challenged them at halftime. We said we’ve gone into halves playing great halves of basketball but we haven’t come all the time in the second half and maintained the intensity.”
“I challenged the three captains. They did a good job on that side of the floor.”
And when the Lancers needed a lift, the squad turned to Curtin and freshman Elijah Parent who both had career games.
Curtin played 25 minutes and did well on defense while Parent jammed in a season-high 11 points (all scored in the second half) on 4-of-5 shooting, dropping in three 3-pointers, while adding two assists and two steals over 22 minutes of play.
“Basically, they helped win us the game,” said Ray of Curtin and Parent. “Elijah’s shots were just energy. Bryce [did] things that aren’t going to show up on Bryce’s score sheet. [He] had to defend a bigger kid. And [Isaiah Walker] knocked down a couple shots but Bryce was a factor. He made some young mistakes out there but he had more positives than negatives. That’s what we’re looking for off the bench.”
Jahwan Cody led the Red Raiders with 11 points while Walker was held to 10.
Eastern nabbed a 5-4 lead to open the game but Derby went ahead by four before a Goulet lay-up saw the Red Raiders go in front 10-8 after one period of play.
Derby stretched the advantage out to four again off two free throws from Nate Dockery but when Curtin canned a jumper with 3:41 to go in the first half, the Lancers were on top 16-15.
But the Red Raiders ended the second period on a 9-4 jaunt and when Devont Addison hit a late bucket, the visitors led 24-20 at the break.
In the third frame, the Lancers notched only six points but Parent opened the half with a floater to keep the squad afloat.
Addison ended the tilt with a blistering 3 and with eight minutes left in regulation, the Lancers trailed 32-26.
In the fourth, Tate found Goulet for two consecutive lay-ups and with 5:47 to play, Eastern was down just 34-32 with a boatload of time on the clock.
Derby stretched it out to two possessions again before the Lancers finally drew even.
Parent drained consecutive 3s and with 3:26 left, it was a brand new game at 38-38.
The Red Raiders retook the lead a minute later but when Parent splashed in his final trifecta of the afternoon, the Lancers led for the first time since the second quarter at 42-40.
“I can’t say enough about what Parent did,” said Ray. “To come out and to hit three 3s…it comes down to defense wins games but offense creates energy. Sometimes it’s easier to play defense when you’re knocking down shots. I think that gave us a big lift.”
Ray did a nice job calling timeouts down the stretch as the Lancers were looking to keep its edge for good on a possession by possession basis.
“We tried to save some timeouts because I knew we’d need them at the end,” said Ray. “And that’s what we needed. Sometimes we don’t always make the right decision on the break. I thought we walked when we needed to. We set up and went slow when we needed to and that was the difference. We executed in the half-court much better than we did the first time we played them.”
“I think we were a little stronger with the ball, we were a little surer of ourselves and that just means you’re getting better and the ultimate goal of any season is to get better.”
Both squads missed chances down the stretch before Robinson made his hoop with 44 seconds left.
From there, tied at 42-42, Eastern took the final shot and Goulet capped off an outstanding day of hoop with his buzzer-beating basket.
“It feels great,” said Goulet of the win. “We’ve been grinding everything out in practice. We really wanted this one.”
The Lancers had to win two of its final three games to earn a state tournament bid and it all started with a contest against Plainville this past Tuesday in Bristol.
“We just look to Plainville next, we don’t get ahead of ourselves,” said Ray. “We’ve had this conversation before. For us, it’s just a matter of going out and trying to do what we did tonight: playing good halves and going out playing possessions the right way. We still have a lot to clean up but at least now when we go down to practice, you have that winning feeling which is important.”