By BRIAN JENNINGS
Coach John Cessario pressed both hands against his face and wiped away his exhaustion with a groan. His Blue Knight basketball team won the game, but Cessario said he was worn down by his team’s mental mistakes. His voice was almost completely gone from all the yelling.
“We didn’t need their pressure to turn it over,” he said. “We had so many turnovers in the first half. It wasn’t their pressure.”
Poor decision making forced them to commit numerous turnovers and almost allowed the game to slip right through their fingers, but the Blue Knights managed to hang on and cap off the week by earning their second-straight win with a 64-55 victory over divisional Conard at home on Friday, Feb. 9.
“They are a much-improved team that is knocking on the state tournament number,” said Cessario. “They’re extremely gritty, they play well, and they are coached well. It’s CCC basketball at its best, and it’s something that we’ve got to do a better job handling.”
The Knights found ways to commit turnovers in transition in the first three quarters, throwing the ball away in odd numbered advantages. That’s 14 points that they could’ve had.
“I think we had 13 turnovers in the first half, which is not the way to play,” said Cessario. “When you score 19 points with 13 first-half turnovers, you’re bound to be in a dogfight. You knock that down to three or four turnovers and you’re getting six or seven extra shots. Then who knows what could happen because, offensively, we felt very comfortable once we were in our sets.”
The score was knotted at 29 all at the half, and Conard’s pressure didn’t stop. The Knights wound up committing three or four more turnovers. However, they regained their composure by pulling away with 35 points in the second half, with 23 of those points coming in the third quarter, as they went 8-for-10 from the foul line with four players in double-digit points.
Andrew Lohneiss helped clinched the win by completing a pair of three-point plays at the free throw line in the fourth, pacing the offense by tying a season high of 25 points on the team’s lone two three-pointers. Lohneiss was also perfect from the charity stripe, going 5-for-5. Jeremy Mercier backed Lohneiss with 11 points, and Ryan Gesnaldo and Tim O’Shea contributed with 10 points each.
Cessario said that he wants his team to limit their turnovers to less than 10 a game. With 13 in the first half against Conard, turnovers will obviously remain as the main concern for the Knights going forward.
“It’s drill central,” said Cessario. “We’ve got to be able to really perform it and try to replicate what it is that you’re supposed to see in a game or practice setting. We have some incredible, young guys that help us replicate that. We need to play odd numbered basketball so that 5-on-5 looks a little bit more spacious.”
Earlier in the week, the Knights broke their three-game losing streak on Monday with a 48-34 victory over Cheshire at home.
“The definition of a good team is to bounce back after losses, and we did it against a very solid Cheshire team that has nine wins in a tough conference,” said Cessario. “We felt like we needed to defend and wanted to keep them to 30 points, in order to give us the win.”
Southington held an eight-point lead at the half and limited the Cheshire to just six points in the second and third quarters. The Knights also dominated the glass and outrebounded the Rams, 36-23. Cheshire made just two of 19 three-point attempts, finishing the game with a 26.3 field goal percentage.
“We had great contributions from all 10 guys that played,” said Cessario. “We had more turnovers than we wanted in the first quarter, but still had the lead. Then we really put the clamps on them defensively.”
Lohneiss (3 assists, 3 steals) and Mercier (3 rebounds, 2 steals) paced the offense with 11 points each, as Lohneiss grabbed a team high of seven rebounds and went 3-for-4 from the foul line. Gesnaldo (2 steals) and Colin Burdette (2 assists, 2 rebounds) contributed as well with eight and seven points.
The Knights (11-6) will be back on the hardwood this week when they travel to divisional Hall (2-15) before returning home on Friday to host Tolland (4-13).
For this week’s box scores, click here: (southingtonobserver.com/2018/02/13/weekly-scoreboard-for-the-feb-16-edition). To contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.