By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Basketball standout Elijah Parent is building quite a reputation for himself on the boys team at Bristol Eastern.
And on Thursday, Jan. 16, he added a little more buzz to his name.
Parent drained the game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer against Avon as the Lancers scored a huge 54-51 Central Connecticut Conference interdivisional victory over the Falcons from the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium in Bristol.
It was the second last minute win over Avon (6-3) this year as Eastern (5-4) defeated the Falcons in the finals of its holiday tournament back on Dec. 30.
It was all tied up at 51-51 with 7.2 seconds remaining when Eastern’s Elijah Borgelin nearly drove the length of the court, found Parent coming off a little screen in front of the Eastern bench and the junior coolly sank the game-winning three as the crowd exploded in jubilation.
The Lancers trailed by double-figures in the first half, cut it to five at intermission, tied it up to end the third quarter and worked hard in its 2-3 zone defense to frustrate Avon and keep its crafty scorers away from the hoop.
“When you play a team twice, you hope to bottle up what you did the first time,” said Eastern coach Bunty Ray. “But they’re 6-2 [coming into the game] for a reason. They’re a quality team, they’re well coached so they were ready. They had some counters for what we wanted to do. We had to make some adjustments mid-game and obviously, we just needed a stop.”
Parent (game-high 24 points) scored 21 points over the final 21 minutes of the game – hitting 9-of-16 shots from the field – while Jordyn Tate played his finest game in an Eastern uniform.
The senior pumped in a career-high 20 points, canning three threes, while grabbing five boards and dishing out two assists.
His outstanding defense against sharp-shooter Jack Hall (16 points) was one thing but the offensive explosion by Tate helped put the locals over the top.
“Our offenses are really designed for equal opportunity,” said Ray. “There are a lot of things that we’re doing out there that if we just make reads, guys are doing the right thing finding [other] guys and if you’re going to focus on Elijah [Parent], you’re going to give up something else. That’s what happened and Jordyn made some big three-point baskets. But he just didn’t hit 3s.
“He got to the rim, he had some inside play, he made good decisions…I don’t think he forced a lot of shots. As long as he understands that those shots have to come in the rhythm of the offense, and he did tonight, I think it will lead to good things for us.”
With two rotational players injured, it was all hands on deck once again and Eastern’s Bryce Curtin collected six points and a career-best 14 rebounds, Borgelin contributed three points, three assists, and five rebounds, Tyler Donohue added five boards while Drew Fries and Nasir Walker also saw action that evening.
“Bryce did a lot of dirty work,” said Ray of Curtin. “Now, we’re injured so we’ve lost a couple guys. We only played six, seven guys tonight. To put up that kind of effort with seven guys, to play that physical, was pretty special.”
Hall notched nine of those team-high 16 points in the first half but did not score in the third quarter while teammate Will Soucier battled for 15 points – 13 of which were netted during the first 13 minutes of the showdown.
“We held him down pretty good,” said Ray of Hall. “Other guys are going to make plays but I thought a lot of their offense came from us. So once we limited that, I thought we did a pretty good job.”
But it was all Avon to start the game as the team forced several Eastern turnovers, Soucier scored on several high percentage buckets and off his lay-up with 4:25 left in the first period, the Falcons had a double-figure edge at 13-3.
Tate later put in a lay-up and Parent kicked in his first three but through one quarter of play, Avon was in charge at 19-9.
It got a bit worse in the second tilt as Soucier continued to hit away from inside and when Tyler Brokenshire canned his first 3 of the outing, Avon reached its largest lead at 28-14 with 4:27 remaining in the half.
From there, the Eastern defense picked up, shots started to fall for the home team and the Lancers made a run to close the deficit.
“We’re shooting ourselves in the foot with turnovers, poor defensive play and everything was kind of snowballing,” said Ray. “I was kind of negative in the beginning myself so I think once we all settled down, I wasn’t as frustrated, the kids were just kind of playing free, a couple baskets go in, we make a couple stops and it’s a funny game.”
“Confidence and making a little run, the kids start getting energized and everything kind of goes from there.”
A 12-2 Eastern dash got the Kingstreeters within four as Tate nailed two three-point plays – one the conventional way – Parent scored four points and when Borgelin calmly sank two free throws, Avon’s cushion was chopped to 30-26 with 1:25 left in the half.
The Falcons led 33-28 at the break but that tally was about to evaporate.
Eastern’s 2-3 zone played havoc with Avon’s offense and when Curtin found Tate for a hoop in the lane, the Lancers held their first lead at 35-34 with 5:29 remaining in the third period.
The edge flip-flopped between the squads for the rest of the period but when Brokenshire hit a three to end the third, it was a brand new game at 42-42.
Tate hit his final three of the game with 7:33 to play as Eastern led 45-42 but a 7-0 Avon run – fueled by five points from Hall – gave the Falcons a 49-45 edge with 4:11 to play.
But all the offense Avon could muster up the rest of the way were two Hall free throws as Eastern’s defense made all the big stops late.
Parent canned a lay-up with 3:18 left to make it a 49-47 game but just over a minute later, Hall slipped in his two free throws as Avon’s lead reached 51-47 with 2:14 remaining in regulation.
Parent again connected on a hoop, a sweet little jumper with 90 seconds left, as Eastern trailed 51-49.
But off a timeout, Avon misfired on its attempt and Tate hit a neat little floater from the left side of the court and quickly, it was a 51-51 game with 31.1 seconds showing on the clock.
Two timeouts later, Hall – with four fouls – was setting up on the right side of the floor behind the three-point line, looking to make a move on Tate.
As Hall sprinted to the hoop, he shoved Tate with his forearm, the Eastern defender fell to the hardwood, drawing the charge on Hall – his fifth and final foul – with 7.2 seconds left and the Lancers had the ball one last time.
“We talked about taking charges on [Hall],” said Ray. “Jordyn pays attention to the little things. That defensive play was huge because it fouled [Hall] out of the game. When the star goes out, now you’re waiting for the last shot. It would had been interesting if we had gone to overtime to see how they’d done without [Hall], what they look like because when he’s on the floor, you have to pay a lot of attention to him.”
From there, Borgelin found Parent for the game-winning three to end the contest in dramatic fashion as Eastern won by three and moved to 4-2 overall in games this season decided by three points or less.
“The cardiac kids over here, anything in the last minute, I’m pretty confident we’re going to do some good things,” said Ray. “We’re getting used to it. We’ve won four games [like that]. I’m happy for the kids. I am happy Elijah [Borgelin] was able to create for Elijah [Parent]. The last time it was one Elijah [Borgelin] that helped win the game. This time, it’s this Elijah [Parent].”
“That’s a great team win.”