Boys Basketball: Conard snaps 5-game streak

Zach Zembrzuski makes a layup against Conard during the Knights’ first loss of the season.

SPENCER DREHER

STAFF WRITER

It was a roller coaster couple of weeks for the Southington boys basketball team, as they enjoyed an intense victory in the holiday tournament they hosted before the New Years, then dropped their first loss of the season on Monday against Conard.

It wasn’t how coach John Cessario and the team envisioned it but the Blue Knights came into Tuesday ranked sixth in Division II.  Here is what happened:

Holiday Tournament

DEC. 27-30—The first challenging test of the season came in the championship of the four-team holiday tournament at Southington high as the Blue Knights took on New Canaan.

It was a defensive battle all night as Southington was trailing at halftime, 17-9.  However, the Blue Knights finally found their offensive groove in the second half as they outscored the Rams 30-21.

“We did struggle shooting the ball but New Canaan did a good job creating those tough shots for us,” Cessario said.  “They were in our face a little bit.  They were crowding us and making us feel uncomfortable.  We got very few clean looks.”

Southington found its way to the foul line in the fourth quarter and made enough free throws to come out on top.  They shot 11-of-14 from the line in the fourth quarter alone.

The Blue Knights’ leading scorers, Jake Napoli and Jared Kelly, struggled in the first half but scored 19 of the team’s 30 second half points.  Kelly finished with 14 points and four rebounds while Napoli had 10 points and five rebounds.

Southington advanced to the finals after taking down East Windsor in the first round.  The Knights used a monster first quarter where they outscored the Panthers 24-4 to take control of the game.

Kelly was lights out from behind the arc as he made seven three-pointers on the way to a 27-point night.

Win over Enfield

JAN. 3—Southington’s advantage at the three-point line was again the deciding factor in a 60-40 win at Enfield on Jan. 3.  The Knights shot 11-of-23 from three-point range while holding Enfield to 5-of-28.

Southington again used a big second half to separate themselves.  Kelly, Napoli, and Nick Marecki each made two three-pointers in the second half.  Kelly and Napoli each had 16 points and combined for nine rebounds and nine assists.  Marecki finished with 14 points, shooting 4-of-9 from three-point range.

Aedan Derrick dominated on the glass as he finished with 19 rebounds to go with his nine points.  Southington outrebounded Enfield 35-24.

First Loss to Conard

JAN. 6—After holding the advantage at the three-point line in previous games, Conard gave Southington a taste of their own medicine as they handed the Knights their first loss, 65-51.

Conard went with a small lineup and spread out the floor, making it difficult for Southington to defend on the perimeter.  Twelve of Conard’s 26 field goals came from beyond the arc.

Arsen Shtetan of Conard made four three-pointers in the first half and finished with 17 points.  Connor Olechna led the way for the Chieftains with 24 points, including four three-pointers of his own.

“We didn’t play the perimeter the way we wanted to,” Cessario said.  “When a team shoots as well as they did from three, you aren’t going to win many games.  We have prided ourselves on defending the perimeter.  Tonight we didn’t do a good job of that and they took full advantage.”

While Kelly and Napoli were able to counter with some threes of their own in the second half, Conard put too much pressure on the offense to make their jump shots.  It also took Derrick and their other big man, Zach Zembrzuski out of the game early.

Cessario said he expects more from the team when they go up against some of the better CCC competition like Conard.

“I would like for us to play with the force, the intelligence, and the heart that is required when you go up against some of these better CCC teams,” Cessario said.  “We didn’t answer the bell when it came to the toughness that Conard brought.”

The Knights tried to rebound from the loss yesterday at Simsbury.  They return to home action Monday when they host Avon at 6:45 p.m.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Spencer Dreher, email him at SDreher@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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