NEW MILFORD – All Bristol Central boys basketball coach Tim Barrette wanted out of his squad in its CIAC Division III first round tournament game against No. 14 New Milford was the best possible effort it could give.
Barrette actually wanted a “perfect” effort and against the 10-rated squad in the fray, the Rams did not disappoint.
The Blue Wave had to work hard to re-take the lead in the fourth quarter and needed overtime to overcome No. 24 Central.
And despite subpar shooting and blowing a six-point lead with 31.3 seconds left in regulation, the Blue Wave eventually pulled out a 65-61 victory from New Milford High School.
New Milford (15-6) survived and advanced but hardly had an easy time of it as Central (8-13) displayed hustle, guile, and guts, taking the ball to the hoop for big finishes – almost pulling off the upset bid.
“I asked for a perfect effort tonight before we came out” said Central coach Tim Barrette. “I can’t control anything else [like] shots they miss, turnovers, things like that. And I got a perfect effort. I’m very proud of my guys.”
Central held the edge in the contest for nearly 27 consecutive minutes before finally yielding a 48-47 push to the Blue Wave with 3:48 remaining in the showdown.
And with a 57-51 cushion in hand, all New Milford had to do was hit one clutch free throw to ice the game over the final seconds of the fourth period.
However, the home team refused to comply.
The Green Wave missed three consecutive charity tosses to end regulation and connected on only four of nine foul shooting attempts in the four minute overtime session.
Central’s defense did the job, out-rebounding the home team by 17, and forced New Milford to less than 33-percent shooting overall for the game.
Credit belonged to the Green Wave’s defense as it turned Central overall 19 times while on the flip side, New Milford took outstanding care of the ball – committing just four turnovers in the game.
But in the early going, the Green Wave trailed by double figures and had to play catch-up for most of the encounter.
With 4:54 to play in the second quarter, Central led 28-15, which was the biggest lead for either squad in the game.
New Milford’s six-point lead late in the fourth proved to be its biggest cushion. However, it wasn’t enough.
Central’s Donovan Clingan came away re-tying his career-high with 36 points while also grabbing 18 rebounds and blocking three shots.
He stayed calm and cool even as he was hounded and harassed the entire game, showing poise in Central’s biggest showdown of the season.
Clingan picked up a controversial fifth foul— of the offensive variety — with 24.7 seconds left in OT and was unable to help his mates on the floor in the end.
“He played well…he played really well in his first state tournament game,” said Barrette of Clingan. “[His fifth foul] was a tough call down the stretch. I don’t know about that one…”
Senior Ryan Rodriguez left it all on the floor in his final game, dropping in four points, nine rebounds, and four assists.
Sean Wininger scored a hoop and grabbed seven rebounds while Shane Ouellette canned a huge three along the way.
Victor Rosa contributed two points and three rebounds while Mike Lorenzetti nabbed two of his own in a couple big stints filling in for Clingan due to foul trouble and rest.
And Damion Glasper’s only hoop was the biggest of the game as his lay-up with just seconds remaining in regulation led to overtime with the contest tied up at 57-57.
And Austin Brown played extremely well over his 12-point, five-rebound, three-assist effort that saw the junior turn ball over just once during the pressure-pack affair.
“I was all over Austin during this break, I’ll admit it,” said Barrette of Brown. “I needed more solid play. I didn’t need the home run. I just needed him to be solid and I thought he was solid from start to finish tonight.”
Eric Habjan led New Milford with 19 points while Johnny Fitzmaurice added 17 to help their squad advance to second round play.
In terms of three-point shooting, Central canned just the one while New Milford looked like it was at NBA All-Star Weekend – heaving up one three after another.
The Green Wave canned 8-of-33 attempts but had some awful dry spells as Central defenders got to its spots defensively to contest those shots.
“We knew they were going to hit in between eight and 10” threes, said Barrette of New Milford. “We just couldn’t have them hit 15 and be in the game.”
“But the only way to (limit New Milford) was defensively and tonight, we really did a good job on the backboards, rebounding the basketball.”
The contest saw the lead flip-flop 11 times and with Central trailing by one early, a 9-0 Rams’ run – highlighted by offensive rebound put-backs from Rodriguez and Clingan – gave the visitors a 13-5 edge with 3:31 left to play in the first quarter.
And later, a quick 6-0 burst, all keyed by Clingan, had Central leading 21-9 with 6:22 left in the first half and New Milford looked for relief via a time out.
“I think we did a great job entering the ball,” said Barrette. “They weren’t really doubling yet as hard as they did in the second half.”
Rosa’s only hoop of the game extended the Ram’s edge to 28-15 – its biggest of the contest – with 4:54 remaining in the second frame but a 12-2 New Milford run saw the deficit trimmed to three before the teams settled on a 32-27 score with the visitors on top.
Central’s offense slowed a bit in the third period and when Fitzmaurice dropped in a three-pointer with 4:08 left in the tilt, Central’s lead was cut to 38-37.
But Clingan connected on three straight baskets and when Brown canned a nifty fall-away jumper, it was a 46-37 game to begin the fourth stanza.
However, Central’s offense went cold in the fourth – going 4:30 without a point – and a 10-0 burst gave New Milford a 48-47 lead, its first since the opening minutes of the game.
“We had same opportunities in the second half,” said Barrette. “We didn’t make some lay-ups. We got some shots blocked. We just didn’t capitalize when we needed to.”
Clingan answered the run with a couple of hoops as his put-back with 2:27 left in regulation gave Central a 50-48 lead.
And then the wheels almost fell off the wagon for Central.
Habjan canned his third three of the evening and off a Clingan turnover, New Milford’s Tyler Bowe hit a shot, plus a foul, and with 1:26 left in the fourth, he had a chance for a three-point play to make it a two-possession game.
But he missed the free throw, Rodriguez couldn’t answer with a hoop and Fitzmaurice hit two foul shots to extend New Milford’s lead to 55-50 with 51.5 left in regulation.
Wininger then missed a three but Clingan got the rebound and sank one of two free throws to make it a four-point game.
Central immediately fouled Josian Morales – who scored nine second half points – and he canned two charity tosses, propelling the Green Wave to a 57-51 cushion with 31.3 seconds showing on the clock.
But the home team wouldn’t score again in the stanza.
Clingan dropped in a hoop off a Central miss with 19 seconds left in the period and New Milford helped out by missing the first end of a one-and-one opportunity.
Ouellette quickly found Clingan for a turnaround jumper in the paint and suddenly, it was a 57-55 game but the Rams still trailed by two with 8.8 left in regulation.
On the inbounds, it appeared as if Central had a steal underneath its own hoop but a foul was called and two free throws were awarded to Bowe.
But he misfired on both attempts and with 7.9 seconds left, Central had the ball.
Glasper, on the opposite side of the Central bench and in front of the New Milford student section, took the final shot.
He attacked the defense, barreled to the hoop and powered in a lay-up through heavy traffic.
And when the ball found the bottom of the net, the game was all tied up at 57-57 and the teams were heading for overtime.
The squads traded hoops early in OT and when Clingan made his final lay-up of the game with 1:25 to go, the Rams led 61-60.
Central got a stop late but a huge offensive put-back by Morales gave New Milford a 62-61 edge with 1:12 remaining as the Rams never got the lead back.
But the Green Wave tried to give it away again as the team went 2-of-4 from the free throw line the rest of the way and Central trailed by just a 64-61 push with 22 seconds left in the game.
Central senior Royon Buchanon had a great look at a game-tying three and his shot just rimmed out.
In the final moments, one final Fitzmaurice foul shot pushed the deficit out to four at 65-61 with 4.8 seconds left, ending the game.
“We made some freshmen plays down the stretch,” said Barrette. “You know, there’s only five teams at the end of the day that will say they didn’t lose their last game. That’s the five state champions.”
“My seniors, I thanked them inside (the locker room after the game).”
It was the final scholastic contests for Bristol Central’s Nate Rosa, Royon Buchanon, and Ryan Rodriguez who all gave it one heck of an effort to extend the season at least one more game.
“For 15 days off, that’s a long time in between (games),” said Barrette. “To come out and put in the effort they did tonight, I’m really proud of them.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Michael Letendre, email him at MLetendre@BristolObserver.com.