’Canes Clear Hurdle in Holding off NWC
Both New Britain boys basketball coach Todd Stigliano and his Northwest Catholic counterpart John Mirabello were looking for a valid early season sample when their teams met Saturday afternoon in the 38th annual Doc Hurley Tournament at Weaver High.
This is New Britain’s time. Stigliano has all the pieces to move his program back toward the top of the heap in the Central Connecticut Conference.
He’s got depth, size, speed, several top-flight perimeter shooters and a core of players with varsity experience. But history reveals that the Hurricanes have come up empty against Northwest for five games dating back nearly three years, and history has its place. Stigliano had yet to taste victory against Northwest Catholic.
The Indians have won the CCC West all three years since arriving from the old Northwest Conference, but face a major overhaul.
Kuran Iverson, the versatile 6’9” forward at the crux of those teams, passed up his senior season for prep school in Virginia prior to starting his college career at Memphis. Five supplementary players who logged the brunt of Northwest’s varsity minutes graduated.
Both coaches witnessed positive steps, but only one could emerge victorious.
The Hurricanes used a late second-quarter burst of transition energy to build a big lead and dodged a late Northwest surge to secure a 73-71 win.
The last time New Britain defeated Northwest was Jan. 4, 2010, when All-Stater Darius Watson was rattling rims and venerable coach Stan Glowiak was making his farewell tour. The Indians are now 41-2 since landing in the CCC West and New Britain has accounted for both losses.
“It’s a great win for our team, not pretty in the end, but we’ll absolutely take it,” said Stigliano, whose team led by as many as 13 late in the first half only to go down by a bucket midway through the fourth quarter.
“We haven’t been able to beat them since I’ve been here and our kids are talking about how they want to win the conference. You want to win the conference, you have to beat the teams that are the best and historically, they win the conference every year.
“This is a moment for us to try and say we’re here to stay. The kids dug deep, played hard and it was great to be a part of it.”
New Britain built a 17-13 lead in the first quarter on the strength of three 3-pointers by Daequone Clark, the agile 6’3 forward who earned Most Outstanding Player recognition for the ’Canes with a team-high 18 points. But it was Clark’s defense on Northwest star Nick Gaynor that reinforced his value to the team.
Gaynor, voted Northwest’s MOP by virtue of his game-high totals in points (21) and assists (6), was held without a field goal in the fourth quarter.
“He was coming down and they were down by one so my mind was on getting a defensive stop,” Clark said. “Our team rallied together, got energy and everybody said we’ve got to lock down right now. This is our time. Get this last stop.”
Northwest held a 65-64 lead with 1:50 left, but with Gaynor quiet, the ’Canes built a six-point lead. Successive treys by Matt Laffin and Kenny Cox in the last 20 seconds gave the Indians a chance to tie or win the game in the final seconds. A desperation heave from 40 feet by center P.J. Edwards went awry.
“We could have very easily said, ‘Okay, it’s not our night,’ but they hung in there and I’m really proud of them,” Mirabello said. “They showed a lot of toughness and they made plays, and I think most of it came from sheer effort and energy.”
The Hurricanes’ 11-2 run at the end of the first half provided for a 42-31 halftime advantage. Two steals by Michael Robinson and one by Aramis Hernandez led to three straight breakaway buckets. New Britain shot 10-for-16 from the field in the second quarter as a result of getting high-percentage shots.
“We started doing the right things on defense and we got transition hoops,” Stigliano said. “If you let them set up their defense they make it hard for you. So the end of the first half we got a couple of good steals and we got out in transition. It’s the easiest way to score in the game of basketball and it gave us some momentum going into the half.”
Junior center Craven Johnson scored 14 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, blocked three shots and avoided committing a fifth foul down the stretch. Guards Sheveran Williams-Hardy, Annuel Saint Juste, Hernandez and Robinson combined for 37 points.
Curtis Hyman snagged 10 rebounds to give New Britain the formidable frontcourt presence that Stigliano anticipated.
“Curtis and Craven down low – I think there are very few people who can stop them if we get them the ball in the right position. We stress that,” he said.
The teams meet again Jan. 25 in New Britain in a game that will determine plenty about who wins the CCC West.
“[New Britain’s] got good guards, they have length on the wings, they can shoot it and they’ve got one of the toughest low-post players around in the blocks,” Mirabello said. “That’s a combination for a very, very good team and that’s what I’m excited about for our guys. …
“We’ll get better and we’ll do better at the end of those games. We’ll execute, make a play, throw one more pass. How many layups did we miss, how many second shots did we give up? That’s stuff you can better at.”
New Britain 73, NW Catholic 71
New Britain (2-0): Sheveran Williams-Hardy 4 0-0 10, Daequone Clark 5 5-7 18, Annuel Saint Juste 5 0-0 11, Michael Robinson 3 0-0 7, Craven Johnson 5 4-9 14, Aramis Hernandez 2 5-5 9, Curtis Hyman 0 4-6 4, Curtrell Hyman 0 0-0 0. Totals 24 18-27 73.
NW Catholic (1-1): Sam Lorenzo 3 3-4 9, P.J. Edwards 4 3-5 11, Kenny Cox 2 0-0 5, Matt Laffin 2 2-2 7, Louis Lawson 2 2-2 6, Nick Gaynor 7 4-6 21, Michael Story Jr. 6 0-1 12. Totals 26 14-20 71.
NB 17 25 16 15 – 73
NWC 13 18 18 22 – 71
Three-point goals: NB – Williams-Hardy 2, Clark 3, Saint Juste, Robinson; NWC – Cox, Laffin, Gaynor 3