By KEVIN ROBERTS
Southington boys basketball had Newington right where it wanted it after the first half of a Jan. 14 game inside the Walt Lozoski Gymnasium. Unfortunately for the Blue Knights, the Indians got it going in the second half and claimed a 60-44 road win.
On Jan. 18, Southington put it all together in a great 54-46 home win over a much taller NW Catholic foe. A big-time effort all-around at the defensive end helped the Knights knock off the Lions and get to 5-6, one game away from .500. Southington worked as a team to keep NW Catholic on the perimeter and off of the offensive glass, where it could use its sizable height advantage.
“We kept all their guys on the perimeter a lot,” coach John Cessario said. “They really committed themselves to the defensive side. From possession to rebound to transition, we did a very good job tonight, and I’m proud of them. I’m really, really proud of how they put it together in game one of the second half of the season.”
Here’s what happened in each game last week:
Second half collapse
JAN. 14—The Knights played the game the way they wanted to in the first half against the Indians. The second half was the opposite as Newington outscored Southington, 41-25.
“In the third and fourth quarter, yeah, they flat-out outplayed us, and we weren’t really answering the bell,” Cessario said.
Jared Kelly (13 points) knocked down a trio of three-pointers in the first half, but none in the second half. Southington had four treys in the first half, then two in the second half, both from Colin Burdette (13 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals). Burdette had the other Knight 3-pointer in the first half.
“Unfortunately when the shots don’t fall and you don’t get productivity from a couple of guys that you depend on, it turns into something that other guys need to do, and we got that,” Cessario said. “We got that from [Ryan] Gesnaldo. He was terrific, he was all over the place.”
Gesnaldo’s help was especially needed after Jake Napoli left the game due to injury. Gesnaldo finished with five points, eight rebounds, four steals and a blocked shot.
A combination of Newington defense and Southington getting out of what worked in the first half contributed to a tough second half. Indian wing Mason Romano was also a problem as he scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half. With Romano back in the lineup and healthy, Cessario sees Newington as a team that’s headed in the right direction.
“We needed to step up and we didn’t,” Cessario said.
JAN. 18—Southington most certainly stepped up against NW Catholic, and the result was a solid win.
Adam Hunter led the Knights with 14 points while Kelly added 13 points. Seven Southington players saw action, and all seven of them scored. Hunter had five rebounds and two blocks while Burdette tallied five assists. Gesnaldo scored seven points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out five assists.
“We’ve been waiting so long for every kid that plays the game to contribute the way they contributed tonight, and it felt good to see them have that success and bounce back from adversity,” Cessario said. “We told them at halftime, you’re going to have some adversity, deal with it.”
Southington’s guards did the job against a NW Catholic defense that had so many different looks. The Lions shifted from man-to-man defense to a series of zone defenses and traps.
“I mean, name it, they were trying to get up in our stuff,” said Cessario, “and our guards handled the pressure.”
The guards also held their own on the backboards against their bigger opponents. Southington and NW Catholic each had 26 rebounds for the game.
Cessario said it was a fun to see his players be mentally tough when it came to rebounding.
“You don’t get to run in transition until you rebound the ball,” Cessario said. “When you get kids the size of Ryan Gesnaldo and Colin Burdette and Jared Kelly committing themselves to the glass, it’s so motivating to coach guys like that.”
What made the effort from the Knights so terrific was that it came from everywhere. NW Catholic also had height inside, but Southington was able to neutralize it with solid play from Hunter, Billy Wadolowski, Jake DelMonte and Jacob Flynn. Wadolowski returned to the lineup after being sidelined for five games.
“Hunter, Wadolowski, DelMonte and Flynn held their own against guys because they committed themselves to boxing out,” Cessario said. “Not just rebounding, they committed themselves to boxing out. It was fun watching them battle, it really was.”
The Knights led, 25-23, at halftime, then outscored the Lions by four points in the third quarter to build the advantage up to 40-34.
Southington got the lead up to 10 points twice early in the fourth quarter, but NW Catholic was able to push back. The Lions pulled within eight points at 46-38 with 3:44 to go, but they were called for a technical foul with 3:07 on the clock. Gesnaldo made two free throws, then a set play off a midcourt inbound found Wadolowski wide open under the basket for a layup and a 50-38 lead.
NW Catholic closed to within seven points twice, but each time it was burned by Kelly for a press-breaking layup. The Lions never got closer than seven points.
Up next: Southington plays two games this week. The Knights were at Platt on Tuesday. Southington hosts South Windsor on Friday at 6:45 p.m.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com