In a stretch where Southington boys basketball lost two out of three, the Blue Knights were dealing with some struggles on the defensive end. Those struggles may have had a breakthrough in Southington’s 65-60 win over Maloney on Jan. 16.
It was just their second game this season that was decided by 10 points or less, also defeating New Canaan 39-38 on Dec. 30. It was also just the second time this season the Knights gave up more than 60 points, but head coach John Cessario said the defense really turned around after coming out of the locker room at halftime.
Southington won the first quarter, 14-10, but Maloney’s offense began to pick up steam in the second quarter. The Spartans outscored Southington, 21-9, for an eight-point halftime lead. Maloney connected on a trio of three pointers in the quarter.
However, the Blue Knights held Maloney to two makes from beyond the arc in the entire second half, while their two top scorers, Jake Napoli and Jared Kelly, combined for 29 points in the half to hold on. Southington outscored Maloney, 24-12, in the third quarter and never lost the lead in the fourth.
“It truly was a tale of two halves,” Cessario said. “We struggled with our perimeter defense in the first half, but we were able to make the necessary adjustments at halftime. We went with zone in the first half but I challenged the guys to play man to man in the second half. We were able to make them more uncomfortable shooting the basketball. It also helps when you have a senior leader like Jared Kelly scoring 21 points in the second half.”
Kelly finished with 24 points, while Napoli finished with 14, including eight in the second half. Dylan Olson had nine points off the bench. Five different Blue Knights made a three-pointer in the win.
It was Knight’s first big win in conference play, which could provide the confidence boost after the 1-2 stretch. Southington came into this week ranked seventh in Division II. They trail CCC foe, No. 5 Bristol Central, by a half game. One more win on the season will give Southington (7-2) an automatic berth into the Division II tournament.
Southington’s schedule spreads out over the next couple of weeks. They play at NW Catholic tonight after a full week of rest then will not play again until next Friday, when they host Newington at 6:45 p.m. NW Catholic (8-1) is one of four teams ahead of the Blue Knights in the overall CCC standings.
Cessario said the break might be needed at this point in the season, with a challenging remaining schedule and midterms just around the corner for the student athletes.
“This week off has been a good thing for us,” Cessario said. “This extended time has allowed us to not only focus more on NW Catholic, but to focus on ourselves. In high school sports, you try the best you can to follow that game-to-game philosophy, but it is especially important when you have this week off.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Spencer Dreher, email him at Sports@SouthingtonObserver.com.