By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Blue Knights boys varsity basketball team was at home in the Walt Lozoski Gymnasium Friday night against the New Britain Golden Hurricanes. Southington earned their second win of the season, doing it in stunning fashion.
The Blue Knights slowed the game down in the first half. Senior Mike Pagano stole the ball in the final seconds of the game, and that sealed the deal for the Blue Knights, 37-34.
Pagano (9-20) led the Blue Knights and all scorers with 24 points. Takari Menyfield led the Golden Hurricanes with 12 points on four field goals.
The victory came on the heels of a tough loss against Newington. Southington was down by four points at the half (23-27). The Knights showed some promise and were hanging around against the Newington Indians, but the game got away from them after the break. The Blue Knights were outscored 15-35 (20 points) in the second half, falling to the Indians, 38-62.
Southington coach John Cessario said that his Blue Knights played the prototypical 2014-15 game.
“We played 16 minutes of solid ball and we wound up playing less to our abilities in the third quarter,” he said. “Newington’s a good team. And when you get that combination, it’s tough to withstand those types of athletes. We had a couple missed layups, only made three free throws tonight (3-12 from charity stripe, 25 percent). We need to do more things more often in order to have the wins come in.”
Indian scorer Jared Simmons led all players with 23 points and nine field goals (one three-pointer). Mike Pagano (6-10, 60 percent) led the Blue Knights with 13 points. Cessario credits turnovers in the third quarter as part of the problem for his Knights.
“I felt that we really didn’t defend very well on the weak side,” said the coach. “We wound up giving up some transition stuff. They want to go. Newington wants to go. And if you don’t withstand that first rush, second rush, and third rush, you wind up giving up some buckets in transition…tough combination.”
The Blue Knights turned the ball over 23 times, as opposed to the Indians’ eight. On the other hand, Cessario was impressed with the way that the Indians got to the rim.
“They’re not ultra, ultra big, but they crash the glass extremely well and they have some thick, big bodies,” he said. “You don’t need to be six-foot-nine to an effective rebounder. They have like six guys at six-foot-two or better that I think can really get to the rim. If you don’t box out and provide the fundamental of boxing out, giving up second-chance shots is a tough thing to go up against.”
In terms of a game plan, Cessario was prepared for the Indians and knew that they were coming in with a 3-2 defensive set. “We have a 2-1-2 set that handled it we thought in the first half…kept it off the floor,” said Cessario. “We saw what we called the short corner. We saw what we called the dive from the post. We were keeping the ball off the floor. We were handling their doubles. And the game plan was to slow it down. I felt like we did in the first half. We run a spread look to slow them down. I felt like we had a couple of calls that wound up getting us comfortable.”
Heading into halftime, Cessario told his players to be content, but not satisfied.
“No team at the high school level ever, especially with the way we’ve been performing, can ever successfully bring home a W playing 16 minutes,” said Cessario. “It’s a requirement to play for 32. And that was something we drove home. We made a couple of adjustments in our press breaker that I felt like we handled in the first one or two minutes in the third quarter, but then, unfortunately, things didn’t go very well.”
Cessario said his team need to work more on their defensive sets.
“We need to be in stances,” he said. “We need to be lower than our offensive guys. We need to be a little more aggressive on what to do when a guy catches on the post…what a guy does on the perimeter against us forcing sideline the way we’ve always preached and never give up a second shot. I think there were three or four looks even at the JV level where we’ve got to give a one-and-done, one-and-done. That’s all we can allow.”
Although stats point to a poor second half for the Blue Knights, Cessario said that a majority of his guys did not quit.
“That’s a testament to their makeup as student athletes here,” said the coach. “We always request, no matter what the scenario is, to win with humility and lose with dignity. I had guys, I felt, on the floor late that wound up having a real pride in playing hard for the uniform, and I felt like that was a definite positive and our performance in the first half. The six guys that we played in the first half were tremendous. They did everything that they could. They were defending. They were handling their pressure. But, they just need to do it for a longer period of time.”
As for the remainder of the season, Cessario said that he is optimistic for the next ten games and is looking for guys that have bought into the system.
“We’re going to see teams a second time,” said Cessario. “We’re going to do our homework and we are going to get the guys that play the hardest and apply the fundamentals and we’re going to look to hopefully make some changes with the scoreboard. And we are going to play the guys that play the hardest…the guys that have come to practice in blood, sweat, and tears through the first ten games.”
The Blue Knights (2-9 overall, 2-5 in the CCC West) currently sit in sixth place in CCC West and travel to Conard High School to take on the Chieftains on Thursday, Jan. 29.