WEST HARTFORD – The Bristol Eastern boys basketball team trailed Conard by as many as 14 points during second-half play in its Central Connecticut Conference Interdivisional contest in West Hartford on Feb. 15 before staging a furious rally.
The Lancers closed the deficit to three points with less than a minute to play before late free throws led the Chieftains to a 64-56 win from Conard High School.
Eastern’s second half effort nearly helped break the squad’s 13-game losing streak (4-15) with just one game remaining on the docket at Bristol Central the following Monday.
“I thought that was our best game of the year,” said Eastern coach Bunty Ray of the effort at Conard. “I asked for one thing. In our situation right now, I just asked for passion and that’s what I got. We played with a lot of a lot of passion out there.”
“And we worked hard.”
Conard’s Arsen Shtefan dropped in a game-high 22 points – canning five three-pointers – while big man Peter Simplicio added 14 points.
But that duo only scored four fourth period points and the home team did not tally an offensive rebound over the final twelve minutes of the game.
And when the Lancers’ defense went into overdrive, it gave Eastern a lift on the offensive end.
“Credit [Conard] early on. They made a lot of shots,” said Ray. “But we answered the bell though. We kind of changed up our style a little bit. We pushed the ball up the floor, opened it up. If we made a few more [shots], it would have been more interesting but at least we were in position to get better shots. We just didn’t knock them down.”
Elijah Parent had one of his finest games in an Eastern uniform, scoring a team-high 16 points, which included four three-pointers.
He also added four assists to his effort but the surprise of the game was the production of senior Isaac Dubay.
The guard had a career night as he kicked in 5-of-6 field goals, including two threes, as he scored 12 points and nabbed three rebounds.
Dubay wasn’t afraid to shoot the ball and he helped keep his team afloat and hanging around in the contest until the final buzzer sounded.
“He was awesome,” said Ray of Dubay. “Here’s a kid that works hard. He goes out there and gives you a 110 percent every day. That’s what you get. You get what you put in and he puts in a lot. I’m glad. The last couple of games, we’ve been playing him more and more. He’s been producing.”
“Just to see him out there, he’s an energy player. Who wouldn’t root for him? When he makes a shot, everybody’s lifted.”
Jahcyrus Bynum kicked in nine points, three rebounds, and three assists, Carter Dziedzic had eight points and two rebounds while Tyler Donohue continued his strong play with five points and two rebounds.
Conard canned 10 three-pointers over 25 tries and also got to the free throw line more than Eastern did by a 21-7 margin.
And the Chieftains sped off in a hurry to start play as the home team led 11-2 with 3:04 to go in the first quarter.
“I’ll be honest with you, we had a hard time guarding them and that’s what you saw in the first quarter,” said Ray. “We made a couple of good adjustments in order to get them to shoot quicker and probably force them into some looks they probably didn’t want to get in to [later in the game].”
It was 18-7 through eight minutes of action. But off a Dubay three-pointer, Eastern had it down to single digits at 21-12 with 7:12 to play in the first half.
Dziedzic later heated up for six second period points but with 3:08 left before intermission, it was still an eight point game at 28-20.
Conard built its lead back to 14 before a Donohue three from the baseline with one second left in the second quarter made it a 36-25 game at the half with the Lancers still hanging around.
Eastern trailed by 12 early in the third stanza. But defense led to offense by the visiting contingent as Parent dropped in three threes; Donohue had another big hoop; and a Bynum lay-in put the Lancers at the doorstep of the lead at 46-44 with 1:18 left in the tilt.
“We gave different looks into our pressure,” said Ray. “Conard made good adjustments. We made our adjustments. We got the ball back, forced them to shoot quick. “
Conard, leading by four, opened the fourth stanza with back-to-back threes from Connor McKeown (12 points) and Shtefan and with 6:41 to play, it was a 54-44 game and Eastern was trialing big again.
But Parent and Dubay combined to score all the points of an Eastern 8-0 run. When Dylan Woodsome found Dubay for one final trifecta, the Lancers were knocking on the door again, trailing 54-52 with just 3:13 left.
But Conard made late free throws. Eastern missed three consecutive shots. With 1:35 to play, the Lancers called time out, down two possessions at 58-52.
“That was kind of a situation where we were missing our [shots] and they were making theirs,” said Ray. “We got it down to where we needed it to about three points. We just couldn’t get the ball back.”
Dubay found Bynum for a late lay-in. When Connor Olechna hit a free throw, Conard led 59-54 with 1:05 remaining.
Jordyn Tate canned two foul shots with just under 50 seconds showing on the clock, again, making it a one possession affair at 59-56. But the Lancers never scored again.
George Andrews (eight points) went 5-of-6 from the foul line the rest of the way to give Conard its fourth win of the season behind the 64-56 final.
“I think the back-breaker were a couple of those loose balls we just couldn’t get our hands on,” said Ray. “It’s just one of those things where we have to develop the instinct to get the ball. Hopefully, like I said, that comes with getting tired of losing and saying, ‘I’m going to get the 50-50 ball.’”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Michael Letendre, email him at MLetendre@BristolObserver.com.