By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Blue Knight basketball team bounced back from a 1-4 start with three straight victories last week. With wins over Hall, Conard, and Bristol Eastern, the Knights are at .500 for the first time this season.
The Knights have a slate of top-ranked CCC teams still to come on their schedule, but Southington coach John Cessario said that he is still optimistic about what his team can do as they continue to search for a seat in the postseason for the first time in his tenure.
“It’s still the growth period where a lot of these guys have never seen varsity minutes,” Cessario said. “We would expect as much as we can from our seniors, but we’re still growing our teeth and taking bites, feeling good about going 4-4. It’s always a concern, but it’s definitely under control. I’m more concerned about not scoring as many points.”
The streak began with a 51-39 victory over Hall at home on Monday. Southington trailed by six at the half, but held Hall to just three points in the third quarter to take the lead.
“We held their big fella Dan Brocke to six points in the entire game,” said Cessario. “When we did that, we were really able to hit some big shots in the second half.”
Jeremy Mercier paced the offense with 15 points and went 5-for-7 from the foul line. Brendan Taylor added 14 points, going 4-for-4 from the charity stripe.
On Wednesday, Southington rallied from a double-digit deficit to earn its second-straight win.
The Knights were down by 17 points with about a minute to go in the first half, but they ran off four points to cut the deficit to 13 points, 34-21, at halftime. Southington came out firing from the break, going on a 15-0 run to start the second half, outscoring the Chieftains, 20-4, in the quarter.
Mercier made a layup with about five seconds to go in the game to put the Knights up by a point. Southington held on for a 50-49 win.
“He’s a double-double waiting to happen,” said Cessario. “His physical ability is tremendous. He moves very well laterally, which makes him a tough cover for some big guys. He’s starting to take some elbow jumpers and draw a guy out so that he can use his explosiveness. He’s really starting to understand the game.”
The Chieftains fired a contested three-point shot at the buzzer, but the shot was off the mark.
Andrew Lohneiss powered the offense with 20 points on a triad of three-pointers. Mercier backed Lohneiss with 13 points.
On Saturday, the Knights capped the perfect week with a 40-37 win over Bristol Eastern.
The Knights held the Lancers to just two points in the first quarter and led, 20-14, at halftime. With the score tied, 37-37, with about 1:20 to go in the game, Taylor (9 points) went to the foul line and made a pair of free throws to give Southington a two-point edge with a little over a minute to go in the contest.
Bristol Eastern committed a charging foul on their next possession, sending Mike DeFeo (8 points) to the free throw line where he sunk one of two foul shots to extend Southington’s lead to three points.
DeFeo retained possession for Southington by falling on a loose ball near half court on a turnover committed by the Lancers on their next possession. However, a Southington travel gave the ball right back to Bristol Eastern with 22.7 showing on the clock.
“I’m trying to tell our guys to embrace pressure, instead of letting pressure get to them,” said Cessario. “With an older backcourt, we needed to do a better job with handling their traps, and their traps got to us a little bit. But I just praise guys like Mercier who stepped in to actually take some pressure off of them.”
After the Lancers missed a jumper, the Knights lost the ball out of bounds dribbling up court off of the defensive rebound.
“We needed to be stronger with the ball, and they got into us a little bit,” the coach said. “But we were able to make some free throws that wound up giving us what we needed. We work very hard at handling double teams and every-angle pressure, but we need to be able to do a better job. We did enough though, and that’s sometimes a lot better than not doing enough when you’re falling short.”
Bristol Eastern inbounded the ball with about 10 seconds remaining and had a good look at a three-pointer for the tie, but the shot missed at the buzzer.
Mercier marshaled the offense with 16 points.
“We’re still going to handle pressure in practice again and again,” said Cessario. “We have some real good teams coming in the next couple of days, but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The Knights will look to continue their winning streak this week when they host NW Catholic (4-5) and South Windsor (7-1) this week. Southington is currently 4-4 overall.
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