By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – You can’t take a quarter off against the Bristol Central boys basketball squad.
It doesn’t matter who the team or what the score is.
And against crosstown rival Bristol Eastern on Monday Feb. 23, the Rams picked up the intensity and cobbled together a huge fourth quarter comeback against the Lancers.
In the end, a 25-10 game ending dash by Central toppled Eastern by a 57-52 final from the Charles C. Marsh Gymnasium from the campus of Bristol Central High School in a CCC South tilt.
The victory propelled the Rams to an impressive 14-6 final regular season ledger while the Lancers fell to 10-10.
Regardless of the results, both teams qualified for the Central Connecticut Connecticut Tournament and split the season series with each other 1-1.
Eastern simply couldn’t get the ball to drop in the basket after an impressive first three quarters of play.
In fact, the Lancers led 42-32 with six seconds remaining to play in the third period before Central took over the showdown for good.
“I actually thought we were out-worked up until the fourth quarter,” said Central coach Tim Barrette. “How many times in the third quarter did we got them to miss, we got them to take shots we wanted and then they got their own rebound or a nice offensive put-back? We had to finish plays.”
“And I’ll tell you what, down the stretch, we finished plays.”
Most of that outstanding play from the Rams came from the hands of freshman point guard Jamil Hornesby who zipped up all 17 of his points over the second half of play.
He helped fuel the run off his crafty play-making; while Jamill Tolliver sprang to life – scoring eight of his 14 points over the final period of play.
But it was Hornesby, scoring 11 third quarter points, that got the ball rolling and set up all the fourth period heroics.
“I don’t think there’s any question, he ignited them in the second half,” said Eastern coach Mike Giovinazzo of Hornesby. “He stepped up either with penetration of his own or finding other people. He was a real catalyst at the end of the game.”
Landin Rutledge was held scoreless over the first 30 minutes of the contest but his five points over the final 2:06 of game play was critical.
L.J. Johnson contributed nine points while Eddie Rodriguez, starting the contest, collected six of his eight points over the third quarter of play.
And while all the stars came out and scored hoops and made stops late for Central, Eastern struggled over the final eight minutes of action.
“I think it came down to one team that made plays down the stretch and another team that didn’t,” said Giovinazzo.
The Lancers went to the hoop and tried to force the action but simply couldn’t find the bottom of the net enough times over the fourth.
George Taylor III etched up a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds as well of Kevin Love who scooped up 12 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots.
Darieyn Tate ramped up 10 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals, Austin Dias added six points and two assists while Daron McKoy struggled but still contributed five points and three rebounds.
And that spoiled an amazing first half of play by Eastern that saw Central miss 21 of 28 field goals and play some tough, lockdown defense that limited the Rams all over the court.
“In the first half, we didn’t even get shots,” said Barrette. “We made errors. We threw the ball away out-of-bounds without being touched and I’ll tell you in the second half, we did a much better job of fronting our offense. We made a couple adjustments at halftime and we were able to use their aggressiveness for a couple backdoors and a couple lay-ups.”
“That kind of got us on a run and we got the stops that we needed.”
Eastern limited the Rams to just 37-percent shooting in the game (20-of-54) but the Rams defense did an effective job as well, holding the Lancers to 11-of-30 shooting over the second half of play.
And that included a tough stretch over the final period that saw Eastern drain just two field goals in a span of 8:06 to close things out.
“We started dribbling the ball too much in the end,” said Giovinazzo. “We weren’t moving the basketball and finding open guys. Guys were dominating the ball [and] there was too much one-on-one.”
The contest was close as four ties and three lead changes highlighted a back-and-forth affair while the Lancers biggest edge of the game was a 29-17 push with 6:13 remaining in the third period of play.
Tate opened the scoring for Eastern with two jumpers but the Rams ended the first with an 11-5 burst as Tolliver snuck in a lay-up; Johnson stuck a three; and Tolliver just missed cashing in on a conventional three-point play that gave Central a 13-9 boost after one period of play.
Eastern’s defense took over the second quarter and Central didn’t respond.
The Lancers scored 14 straight points over the first 4:40 of the stanza and quickly, the Rams fell behind by 10 points.
McCoy and Taylor drained threes; Tate found Love for a hoop; Dais pulled up to nail a basket; Taylor added two charity tosses; and Tate ended the run with a flip shot. With 3:20 before the half, Eastern led 23-13.
Central’s Hector Ortiz canned a lay-up for the Rams’ only hoop of the frame and at the start of intermission, Eastern’s push had reached 23-15.
Off two free throws from Jason Severino, Central had the deficit chopped to six but Eastern rang up six straight points to secure that 12-point lead.
Love hit two consecutive hoops and Dias pumped in a jumper as Eastern’s cushion was 29-17.
But even as the Lancers enjoyed a double-figure edge, Central began dropping long bombs and that cut into the deficit.
Hornesby dropped in two threes and Rodriguez also saw one fall through the basket. With 38 seconds to go in the third, Central was hanging around at 40-32.
Eastern’s Kahseym Fortune snuck in a quick hoop. At the third period buzzer, Hornesby scored on lay-up and that basket – which made it a 42-34 game to open the final tilt – started an 8-0 Central run that cut the deficit to two.
Johnson drained a jumper and Tolliver got two high-percentage shots to fall as the Lancers lead was chopped to 42-40 with 6:10 to play.
Taylor countered with a three-point play but Tolliver scored two quick baskets.
However, the Lancers maintained a 45-44 lead with 4:26 remaining.
But Eastern resumed control off a Love free throw and a hoop by Taylor as the Lancers nabbed a two-possession cushion at 48-44 with 3:43 left.
But thanks in part to Central’s defense, Eastern failed to score another field goal again as the Rams made their stand – going on a blazing 13-2 push – as the Lancers four-point edge became a 57-50 lead for the home team and the Rams made late free throws to pad the tally.
Johnson found Rutledge for a lay-up and with 33 seconds to go, the Rams held that seven-point lead.
“I was very proud of us over the last minute-and-a-half,” said Barrette. “I thought we spread the floor. We got fouled, we made free throws and we didn’t give up easy looks down the other end.”
Taylor canned two late free throws; Johnson followed up with two misses; but with 22.5 seconds left on the clock, the five-point deficit was too big for the Lancers to overcome.
In the end, the 57-52 win for Central and a big victory for the home team to end the season on.
“They’re a good team,” said Giovinazzo of Central. “You don’t expect to have an easy time of it but we’ll have to move on from it. I can’t dwell on it.”
As always, city series games are never perfect but the Rams played the fourth quarter in model like fashion, doing just enough to sink the Lancers.
“I don’t think we played very well overall tonight but I think we finished the game on a six-minute spurt,” said Barrette.
By MICHAEL LETENDRE