By BRIAN JENNINGS
First, they came with the pressure defense.
“They came with their diamond press, but that wasn’t the concern,” said Southington coach John Cessario. “The concern was their man-to-man, which then got into our stuff.”
Then, they came with the fast breaks, alley-oops, and three-pointers.
“We needed to keep them on the perimeter, which we felt like we did very early,” the coach said. “But their athleticism, hunger, and ability to play the game got the best of the game. They really attacked the basket.”
After qualifying for the first time in Cessario’s three-year tenure with the program, the 31st-seeded Blue Knight basketball team was quickly ousted from the Class LL tournament after falling, 69-31, to the defending champion, No. 2 Hillhouse, on the road in the first round on Monday, Mar. 6.
The Knights missed three-straight shots early on in the contest, but still kept the score within their reach, trailing, 7-5, midway through the first quarter.
“We needed to make some shots early, and unfortunately we didn’t,” said Cessario. “But the effort was there for all 32 minutes. Our guys never stopped playing, and how we responded to a team with that much size and ability is what intrigued me the most.”
The Knights trailed by eight, 13-5, at the end of the first quarter, but the Academics took a 34-15 lead by halftime after putting up 21 points in the second quarter, finishing the first half with seven of their 10 threes. The Academics went on to outscore the Knights, 35-16, in the second half, limiting Southington to just four points on four free throws in the third quarter.
Jeremy Mercier paced the Knights with seven points. Mike Mauro contributed six points, and Mike Mauro finished with five. The Knights made just one three in the game.
Eight different players scored for the Academics. Three players finished in double figures.
Although he would have loved to have won a couple more games and got out of the seeding with Hillhouse, Cessario said that it was still good for his players to see what was out there if they ever want to compete for a state championship.
“What a great, hard-working, and committed group we had,” the coach said. “It was exciting to see them prepare and look forward to this. I didn’t see a fear in any of their eyes, which tells me that we’ve done our job in preparing them to go to battle with what can be considered as the best team in the state.”
Southington finished with an overall record of 9-12.
For this week’s box scores, click here: (http://southingtonobserver.com/2017/03/07/weekly-scoreboard-for-the-march-10-edition/). To contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.