By MICHAEL LETENDRE
MANCHESTER – Up-tempo basketball is back en vogue for the boys squad from Bristol Eastern.
And when the Lancers sprinted up and down the court against Manchester in a CCC Interdivisional tilt on Wednesday, Dec. 17, the Indians were hard pressed to match that level of intensity.
Eastern drilled Manchester for 24 points in the second period as the Lancer belted the Indians by a 67-44 final from the Manchester High School gymnasium. It was opening night for both squads and on the road, in front of a hostile and hot crowd, Eastern nabbed an early lead off a fast paced attack that included high percentage field goals and even a couple rim-rattling dunks from senior Kevin Love.
The Lancers as a team sank 23-of-49 of their two point field goals, good for an impressive 59-percent shooting clip.
Overall, Eastern nailed 48-percent of their shots, a solid debut clip. “What we did tonight was attack the basket, went inside, and we went to the glass,” said Eastern coach Mike Giovinazzo. “Those three things are a recipe for a good offense.” Love ended the evening with a game-high 26 points to go along with 10 rebounds – one of three Lancers with a double-figure rebounding tally – three blocks and two steals. George Taylor finished numerous lay-ups as his 22 points and 10 rebounds were hardly a second fiddle effort to Love. Darieyn Tate scored five points and snared a team best 11 rebounds while Austin Dias added three points and three assists.
Eastern outshot Manchester from the foul line by a 30-12 tally, taking the ball into the paint often in the fray. And it was a night where the long-ball was not a needed commodity. “We finished around the rim tonight. We didn’t have to use the three-pointer which is certainly something we have in our arsenal,” said Giovinazzo. “You start inside, you work your way out and I thought we played really well.”
The defense was a deciding factor in the showdown as well and Eastern gave Manchester major fits from every angle of the court the entire evening. The Indians hit just 17-of-72 field goals, nailing an abysmal 2-of-19 from three-point territory.
Yes, Manchester gobbled up 24 offensive rebounds but successful put-backs were at a premium as Eastern filled the lane with defenders and quickly went on the attack once the ball was obtained.
“Defensively, we did a good job too and we rebounded well against a very tough rebounding team,” said Giovinazzo. “Those guys [Manchester] fly to the glass. If you’re not on high alert on the boards, you’re not going to be successful against them.” And while Eastern’s bench might not have the depth as other squads, reserves Kahseym Fortune and Tommy Curtin performed to near brilliance. Fortune played 17 valuable minutes, connecting on four points, five rebounds, and even drew a charge while Curtin helped the frontcourt with some tough, gritty play.
“Excellent, excellent contributions from the bench,” said Giovinazzo. “Against a team like Manchester, you’re going to need that because they’re going to come at you in waves and they’re going to come at you with good athletes. If you don’t have good athletes to counter them, it’s going to tell later in the game.”
“The bench gave us great minutes.”
But the game was afoot from the start even as a loud dunk by Love woke the crowd out of its slumber midway through the first tilt, Manchester was hanging around. However, once Fortune flipped in a lay-up – propelling the Lancers to a 5-4 edge with 4:21 left in the first, Eastern never trailed from there on out. That hoop started a 10-0 push by the visitors, giving Eastern a 13-4 lead with 1:42 remaining in the first.
Even as Manchester notched the final four points of the stanza, the Lancers maintained a 13-8 lead just eight minutes into action. But to open the second, it was all Eastern and their athleticism was on full display for all to see.
Via the power of a 15-0 spurt, Love jammed in two hoops, Taylor drained a lay-up off a fast-break opportunity and Love ended the jaunt with a conventional three-point play.
And with 4:19 left in the half, Eastern’s cushion was 28-8 and Manchester was quickly behind the eight-ball. “We’ve got good athletes, every guy on the team can handle the ball and when we get out in space, we’re pretty dangerous,” said Giovinazzo. Manchester got as close as 16 points before the end of the half but over the final minute, Dias sank two free throws and Love chipped in with a lay-up – giving the Lancers an imposing 37-16 jaunt at the half. The Indians couldn’t dent the deficit over the third period of play and late in the frame, Eastern snared their biggest edge of the evening.
Taylor scooped up eight straight points for the Lancers – the last two hoops being punishing drives to the hole for scores – and with 31 seconds to go in the third, the Eastern lead was 51-25.
The Lancers were cruising by 23 to open the final period and Manchester couldn’t muster any answers to cut the deficit.
Off one last slam by Love, Eastern rambled up a 60-37 lead with 3:50 remaining and the white flag was quickly thrown up as Manchester emptied the bench. Late in the contest, Nate Hickey, Tyler Tefoe, and Jasiah Jenkins (two points, two rebounds) played out the string as Eastern won the road opener by 23 points in a blowout victory.
“I can’t be more pleased with an opener on the road against a good team,” said Giovinazzo. “I’m pretty happy.”
NOTES…The last time Eastern defeated a team by 23 points on opening night came back on Dec. 14, 2011 when Giovinazzo won his 300th game in a defeat of Southington, 68-45, behind 30 points from Eli Rodriguez. The time before that, the Lancers foiled Hall by a 66-43 final on Dec. 12, 1969…The largest margin of victory for Eastern on opening night was established in 1993 when the Lancers turned away Rockville 75-48 from the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium in Bristol (Dec. 17, 1993). Todd Ziogas scored a game-high 19 points during that winning effort.
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObserver.com.
By MICHAEL LETENDRE