BRISTOL – If the Bristol Eastern boys basketball had any chance at beating crosstown rival Bristol Central on Monday, Feb. 18, the squad would have to limit the scoring chances of the Rams’ supporting cast.
Trying to stop Central’s Donavan Clingan would prove problematic – for any scholastic team – as the big man got his points as did outstanding senior Ryan Rodriguez in the squad’s high-low schemes.
But Eastern forced the pace, zipped up several steals, and did not allow Central to hit a three-pointer in the game.
And after 32 grueling and gritty minutes, the Lancers came away with the biggest win of its campaign, a 57-51 triumph from the Charles C. Marsh Gymnasium on the campus of Bristol Central.
The loss dropped the Rams to 8-12 on the season while the Lancers halted a 13-game losing streak with a satisfying victory over its crosstown rival.
“For us, it was a matter of controlling the tempo,” said Eastern coach Bunty Ray. “And I think everybody thought we were going to coach slow and just reversed it. Last game [against Conard], we were trying to control the clock, limit their possessions. Over the course of the year, I kind of learned we weren’t a great executing half-court offense and our half-court defense wasn’t very good. So, the last game against Conard, we were sort of moving in that direction of ‘we have nothing to lose, let’s take the ball, let’s get better shots and let’s just play fast.’”
“It creates energy [but] it also creates fatigue and I think Central fatigued faster than us tonight.”
On the biggest stage of the season, Elijah Parent caught fire, pumping in 23 points – his career-high at Eastern – while also tallying two assists and another career best of five steals.
Parent controlled the hardwood and boosted his team’s chances with the ball. In the third period of play, he sliced in 13 points – netting 20 alone over the second half of play.
“He was handling the ball [well] and looking to get into the passing lanes,” said Ray of Parent. “Elijah’s the kid that listens to everything and that doesn’t always happen with everyone. When his athletic ability catches up to his IQ, he’s going to be really good. You saw it the last part of season of what he’s capable of. He was able to lead us in scoring, play smart, and get people involved. I can’t say enough about what Elijah’s growth is over the year.”
Carter Dziedzic, in his fourth and final varsity season at Eastern, played in his last game and put up 13 points, five rebounds, a team-high four assists and four steals to help lead his squad to the pay window one more time.
And Tyler Donohue was, perhaps, the surprise of the game as he contributed nine points, five rebounds, and made the biggest steal of his varsity career late in the contest when the Rams were on the attack.
Senior Isaac Dubay chipped in three points and career-high three steals; Bryce Curtin collected five points and six rebounds; senior Jahcyrus Bynum nabbed three points, three rebounds, and three steals; and Jordyn Tate added two assists.
Trini Otero, Matt D’Amato, Ryan Fradette, Elijah Borgelin, and senior Ben Chiasson all made contributions over the winning endeavor.
Clingan was as advertised and did a masterful job finishing at the hoop, coming away with a game-high 35 points, countless offensive rebounds, and rejected his usual volume of shots.
Rodriguez added 10 big points but only three other players – who netted a combined six points – scored for Central.
And once Eastern got back its lead late, Central was unable to respond with hoops at the other end as youthful mistakes did-in the Rams.
“I told the kids in the locker room you can’t coach composure,” said Central coach Tim Barrette. “And composure comes through experience. So yes, we’re young in that way. We lack composure in that type of game.”
Nearly two dozen turnovers led to doom and demise for the home team while the squad went 0-for-the-game from downtown as Eastern defenders got to Central’s outside shooters in a hurry.
Eastern canned seven threes in the game and that was one of the biggest differences in the showdown.
“I don’t think we made a three” said Barrette before finding out his team was 0-for-14 for the game. “That’s hard to make up.”
Dziedzic got off to a quick start with a hoop and off a three from Dubay, it was five straight points by Eastern.
But Central zipped up an 8-0 run. With 1:35 to play in the first period, the 8-5 push ended up being the home team’s biggest lead of the evening.
Dziedzic then fueled an 9-0 Eastern run. When Curtin ended the jaunt with a three, the Lancers were in
command at 14-8 with 7:11 to play in the half.
Eastern’s edge reached seven off a three by Parent as the Lancers led 19-12 before Central closed the gap to three with 1:04 before intermission.
A three-point-play by Dziedzic ended the first half scoring with Eastern ahead on the scoreboard by six, 25-19.
Central misfired from the field early in the third frame as the squad was shooting just over 22-percent in the game to that point of the showdown.
“I told the kids at half time I thought we were playing an ‘F’ game and were we down [just] six,” said Barrette. “And at one point of the game, we were 6-of-27 [from the field]. We also didn’t make a shot or a free throw for the first six minutes of the game. And again, we’re chasing.”
A conventional three-point play by Clingan trimmed the Central deficit to four with 4:44 left in the stanza before Parent caught on fire.
He canned a three, hit a baseline jumper, connected on another triple, sank two free throws – hitting his 28th and 29th consecutive charity tosses of the season (jinx). When his final three found nothing but net, Eastern was ahead 43-35 with 1:36 left in the third period.
Rodriguez and Clingan canned back-to-back hoops to close the gap. When Otero hit a free throw to end the third period, Central still trailed but hanging around at 43-39.
“If we got a shot off, we scored,” said Barrette. “You can’t have 14 turnovers in the second half versus a 1-2-2 press that you have a 6-foot-9 guy that’s over the top. But we have been poor passers all year and that did not change tonight and it killed us.”
The game went back-and-forth from there. When Parent hit a floater with 4:20 left, Eastern’s lead was 48-44.
But Central finally retook the game as Clingan took charge with five quick points and his free throw with 3:33 to play – in the midst of an Eastern dry spell – propelled the Rams to a 49-48 lead. But the home team was clearly tired off the inspired play.
“We used so much energy to come back to take the lead at 49-48,” said Barrette.
That edge didn’t last long as Parent made 3-of-4 charity shots, Bynum nailed one himself and when Parent found Donohue for a huge lay-up with 1:04 to play, it was a 54-49 game and Eastern was back in control.
“We tried to give it away a little bit [in the end] with a couple plays. But all in all, we talk about big shots in big situations like Tyler Donohue’s lay-up off of Elijah’s lead,” said Ray. “We had a lot of misses but [Central] was getting two-pointers, not threes. And when we came down, we were able to spread the floor.”
“I knew once we had the lead, we were going to be in good shape because our ball handlers out front do a pretty good job.”
From there, Donohue stole a pass right in front of Clingan and Parent made one of his own moments later.
Parent canned two more clutch free throws. With 31.6 seconds remaining, Eastern led 56-49 and it was a three-possession game.
“I thought, at the end, there were loose balls and we were smelling it,” said Ray. “We grabbed the loose balls and that was the difference. Obviously, the big man is pressure release. But we were able to get the ball away from him and get him up and down. He still got his points, he still got his rebounds, but he had to work up and down the court tonight.”
The teams exchanged free throws the rest of the way. But in the end, Eastern came out on top to split the season series, winning the second contest by a 57-51 final.
“Every time we get together, Eastern and Central, it’s a street fight, and we knew that,” said Barrette. “We didn’t shoot the ball well and turned the ball over way too many times. We did not execute what was drawn up which is very frustrating to me as a coach but it’s also that thing we call composure and a lot of that comes down to it.”
“Give Coach Ray credit. They did a good a job forcing our guards to make plays and tonight, when we made the plays we scored and we didn’t make the plays, they got a lay-up out of it.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Michael Letendre, email him at MLetendre@BristolObserver.com.