BRISTOL – Senior night was a tough one for the Bristol Eastern boys basketball team as the squad faced a resurgent Middletown team – desperate to make the upcoming state tournament fray.
And the Blue Dragons – having to win its final four games to see the playoffs – got a badly needed victory against the Lancers, seizing a 68-42 victory from the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium on Wednesday, Feb. 13 in Bristol.
Middletown’s Donte Pope, a recent transfer into the program, notched 19 of his game-high 23 points over the first half of play as the outfit outscored Eastern (4-14) in every quarter that night.
“That record is not indicative of what they are,” said Eastern coach Bunty Ray of Middletown. “They play the best teams in the Central Connecticut Conference. They’re very battle-tested and I give our kids credit for hanging in as best they could. I knew what was going to happen if [Middletown] started making shots because we’re not built to score a ton of points.”
“Once the score got into the 60s, it was going to be difficult.”
In a tribute to the seniors, Ray started his senior core of Carter Dziedzic, Jahcyrus Bynum, Isaac Dubay, and Ben Chiasson – along with sophomore Elijah Parent.
Chiasson responded with his best game of the year as he scored two points, grabbed four rebounds, and showed hustle and guile all over the court over an excellent 17-minute stint.
“I thought Ben Chiasson gave a tremendous effort,” said Ray. “It was his first start; it was senior night; we decided to put him in and it was an unbelievable effort. A kid who’s not played a ton of minutes and that’s what he gives you. He’s a character kid. I’m so proud of the way he played. He was all over the floor tonight. You’re not going to see the points but every loose ball, rebounds, doing his job on defense, changing shots, I thought Ben played outstanding.”
Dziedzic had his best game, post-injury, with 18 points and five rebounds, Bynum netted eight points and four rebounds while Dubay added three points.
“We finally saw Carter assert himself a little bit, which was good,” said Ray. “Jahcyrus, he was trying to make some plays out there.”
Parent added five points and five rebounds; while Tyler Donohue contributed a team-high nine rebounds in just 18 minutes of action.
Along with Pope’s scoring contribution, Jonathon Nkonoki added 10 points; Kenny Fountain notched eight while Jamarius Russell; Tejan Lanser and Mekhi Toler all scored six points apiece.
The Lancers shot 25-percent from the field overall but turned ball over just seven times.
Eastern was hanging around in the game as the Blue Dragon’s press was beaten several times and lay-ups helped keep the home team in it early.
Dylan Woodsome (four rebounds) found Dziedzic for a three with 2:59 to play in the first stanza to make it a one-point game at 9-8 but the Blue Dragons led it 14-9 after eight minutes of work.
The press didn’t bother Eastern during second period play as Bynum unleashed eight pints over the tilt, his last bucket trimming the deficit to 18-16 with 3:24 left in the first half.
But once that press went away, Eastern couldn’t get its half-court offense moving and Middletown ended the quarter with a 9-2 burst to take a 35-26 edge at the half.
“We created our offense off the press,” said Ray. “We did a good job breaking the press. We had a good game plan against their pressure, just not allowing them to get good traps and we threw the ball in the right places. Carter got a couple easy lay-ups.”
“Middletown then took [the press] off and it becomes us trying to make shots and, again, our offense creates other team’s offense.”
The Lancers were limited to only four points in the third quarter as Donohue canned two charity tosses; and Dziedzic hit a hoop; but with just eight minutes remaining, Eastern trailed by 20 points, 50-30.
Carter went on the attack to start the fourth tilt, scoring Eastern’s first seven points of the fray but Toler canned two straight corner threes and when Fountain made a trifecta of his own; the Lancers trailed 61-37 with 4:05 remaining in the game.
Parent hit a late jumper and Dubay finished off the home scoring with a three as the Lancers eventually absorbed a tough 26-point defeat at the hands of Middletown.
“I was glad Isaac was able to make a shot,” said Ray of Dubay. “The four seniors out there, that was their senior night and you can tell they cared. They played with passion. That’s what we need down the stretch.”
NOTES…In a Bristol Eastern boys basketball first, instead of a special rendition of the National Anthem before the game that technical difficulties nixed, the players, coaches, and crowd all recited the Pledge of Allegiance together in what turned into a very nice moment.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Michael Letendre, email him at MLetendre@BristolObserver.com.