By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – State tournament qualification for the Bristol Central boys basketball team came just 10 games into the season this year as the Rams belted Simsbury by a 58-46 final in a Central Connecticut Conference interdivisional tilt from the Charles C. Marsh Gymnasium in Bristol on Friday, Jan. 17 – nabbing victory number eight.
Central (8-2 overall) eventually led by 28 points midway through the third period and turned an early 9-7 deficit into a 36-15 cushion via a 29-6 run with 39 seconds left in the first half.
And the Trojans wanted nothing to do with bringing the ball inside where 7-foot sophomore Donovan Clingan was lurking.
“We started making the adjustments,” said Central coach Tim Barrette. “You can talk about it all when you’re in the classroom before the game about closing out on [Simsbury’s Ian Calabrese] and [Henry White] who are very excellent players. But you don’t realize with screens and things, you can simulate how quickly they get the shot off in practice but we weren’t doing a great job. We were defending guys that weren’t threats and leaving them because normally, that’s what you do. You stop the ball.”
“Once we started letting them penetrate to Donavan and just closing out and not giving easy looks, we really went on that run.”
Simsbury (2-7) canned 11 three-pointers in the game; but just made three two-point field goals, the first coming with 5:56 left to play in the fourth quarter.
White got his 20, canning four threes, but Calabrese was held to just six points.
Jeff Coleman scored 11 for the Trojans but once the threes stopped falling, it was tough going for the visiting contingent.
Clingan dominated Simsbury as he went for a 20-20.
The big man netted game-highs of 26 points and 22 rebounds and altered other shots when the Trojans attempted to go inside.
Clingan also canned his second three of the season while making a huge rejection to help lead the squad.
And there was plenty of balance behind Clingan.
Austin Brown had seven points; Shane Ouellette dropped in two threes for six; and Sean Wininger added five.
Damion Glasper contributed four points; Piotr Nizielski and D’Ante Ross each tallied a three while Victor Rosa hit a jumper.
Mike Lorenzetti, battling back from illness, also scored a hoop while Carson Rivoira played well over first period action.
“One through nine tonight, I was extremely happy with their play,” said Barrette of his team. “I thought all nine guys contributed positively in that three quarters.”
After Brown found Clingan for a hoop and Ouellette drained an NBA range three, it was 5-0 before Simsbury went on its run.
A 9-2 burst saw Calabrese hit a three-pointer while White canned two more as Simsbury led 9-7 with 5:05 remaining in the first quarter.
From there, the Central defense did not allow a point for a stretch of 7:31 as the home team made all the stops and clamped down on the Trojans’ outside shooting attack.
To end the first period, Clingan scored six points and Ross added a three and Central’s lead was 16-9 through one frame.
With 5:34 left in the second, White finally hit another three to trim the deficit to 20-12.
But the Rams went on a 16-3 jaunt and to end the run, Brown hit a straight-away three, Glasper put in his own miss and Wininger went for five straight points as Central led by 21 – settling in a 20-point halftime cushion.
Leading 38-18 going into the third period, the Rams scored nine of its first 10 points of the frame as Brown went coast-to-coast for a lay-up and when Clingan canned his three, the Rams’ lead reached 47-19 with 5:22 left in the tilt as Simsbury was down and out.
“We’ve been on the other end. Lewis Mills made a lot of threes against us,” said Barrette. “Mills made  that night. Obviously, Donovan is really deterring people from going inside. It’s changed our defensive philosophy as well; but at the same time, we have to make sure we stick to our assignments [and] we have to follow through with the game plan.”
“We did a really good job [defensively] early in the second half and that’s really why we pushed [the lead] out.”
Simsbury closed out the stanza with an 8-0 burst but still trailed 50-27 thought three as the home team did an excellent job holding on to the ball and making every possession count.
“One of our best offenses is missed shots, truthfully,” said Barrette. “But not just with Donovan, but with Sean, with Mike, with Carson [rebounding the ball]. One of our best offenses is the missed shots but if you turn the ball over, you don’t get shots. By only having three or four turnovers through three quarters, that’s a great number. That’s a lot of possessions [and] you’re getting looks.”
And Central upped it back to 28 with 7:04 to play as Clingan – netting 12 offensive rebounds overall – put back two misses and at 55-27, Central’s bench took over for the program.
Simsbury made a bit of run with the Central reserves in but Nizielski hit a three late to end the scoring for the home team, eventually seizing the 12-point win.
Central got a week off from games and Barrette hopes his squad can keep the momentum up off the 8-2 start.
“To be honest, I don’t want the bye week this week,” said Barrette. “I wish I was playing Tuesday night. I told our guys last night at Berlin, ‘we could go on a run to the tournament right now. If we win four [games] in eight days, we’re in the tournament. It’s nice to clinch on Jan. 17 [as] we don’t have to worry about that part. We just have to continue to improve”
“We’re so young and we’re still green that we have to continue to improve.”