By BRIAN JENNINGS
With time dwindling down late in the fourth quarter, Mike DeFeo broke through two defenders on a defensive trap near half-court as he stumbled into the lane.
Almost losing the ball, DeFeo maintained his composure and pulled up for a quick jump shot in the paint. The ball circled the rim a couple times like a vortex of water running down the bathtub drain and eventually hugged the nylon to give the Blue Knight basketball team the lead back, 54-53, with about 17 seconds left.
“We have structure and plays, but within those plays, you need players,” said Southington coach John Cessario. “Mike decided to be a player. He ripped right and pulled up in his very point guard fashion, able to make a play. What we needed was a senior to step up and make a play, and he most definitely did that for us.”
Bodies diving on the floor after every loose ball and blood all over Jeremy Mercier’s jersey were microcosms to Southington’s five-point victory, 58-53, over Glastonbury at home on Friday night.
“Glastonbury’s tougher run didn’t mean anything,” the coach said. “These are high school athletes that carry a big pride at a big school like that, and we needed to match that.”The Tomahawks might have come into Walt Lozoski with a 1-10 record, but they sure as hell didn’t play like a 1-10 team.
“These guys came in unlike a 1-10 team,” said Cessario. “They came in fighting and scrapping the way that you know they would.
The Tomahawks led, 18-10, at the end of the first quarter, but the Knights took a one-point lead, 25-24, heading into halftime. The Knights went on a 7-0 run to start the second half and extended their lead to 38-29 by the end of the third quarter, maintaining their lead for most of the fourth quarter.
Glastonbury tied the score at 48-48 on a three-pointer with just over two minutes remaining. Andrew Lohneiss went to the foul line and sunk three free throws after being fouled beyond the arc, but the Tomahawks nailed another three-pointer on a double bounce off the back of the rim to knot the score back up at 51-51.
“We needed a stop,” said Cessario. “When you get that fortunate where the ball is in the rim, there’s got to be recognition. There were a couple times where we didn’t recognize where shooters were, and they got open looks, which helped them cut into our lead.”
DeFeo went 1-for-2 at the foul line to put the Knights up by a point with 57.1 seconds remaining. A missed three-pointer by the Tomahawks on the other end went to the Knights on a rebounded jump-ball with 42.6 seconds showing.
The Knights turned the ball over on their next possession and fouled the Tomahawks with 36.8 to go. A pair of free throws put the Tomahawks up by a point, 53-52.
After DeFeo made a jump shot with about 17 seconds left to put the Knights up by a point, 54-53, the Tomahawks turned the ball over and sent Brendan Taylor to the foul line, where he extended Southington’s lead to a 56-53 advantage.
“We had thought the clock was our friend for some time, but we missed six odd-man advantages for possibly 12 points,” the coach said. “That really hurt us tonight. But that shot really picked us up when the momentum shift was in play.”
The Tomahawks missed a contested three-pointer with 7.1 seconds showing on the clock, and the Knights pulled away on a pair of Lohneiss free throws.
Jeremy Mercier and DeFeo paced the Knights with 13 points apiece. DeFeo went 7-for-8 from the foul line, going 5-for-6 in the fourth quarter alone. Tim O’Shea contributed with 12 points. Southington was out-sized, but won despite converting just one three-pointer.
“People think that we don’t have enough size, but we also have an ability to get to the rim, and our guys recognized that tonight,” said Cessario. “That’s intestinal fortitude. That is something that you need as a player to know that it’s the size of the heart in the man, not just the size of the man.”
Win at Rockville
JAN. 28—The Knights traveled to Rockville the next day where they earned their second-straight win and jumped up to a game over .500 for the first time this season with a four-point victory, 44-40, in overtime.
The Knights led by three points, 13-10, at halftime, but the Rams scored 12 points in the third quarter to take a 22-17 advantage entering the fourth quarter.
However, the Knights outscored the Rams, 18-13, in the fourth quarter to send the contest into overtime. In the extra period of play, Taylor scored seven of Southington’s nine points on a three-pointer, two-point field goal, and pair of free throws to help the Knights prevail over the Rams.
Taylor led the offense with 15 points and went 6-for-6 from the foul line in the fourth quarter and overtime combined. Mercier contributed with 11 points and went 3-for-4 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter.
The Knights will look to keep their winning streak going this week when they host Conard (3-10), Simsbury (10-3), and Northwest Catholic (6-6). With nine games remaining, the Knights are two wins shy of qualifying for the Class LL tournament for the first time since 2013 when they were the 28-seed with an 8-12 record. Southington is currently 6-5 overall.