MERIDEN — An era of Wilcox Tech basketball not soon forgotten came to an end Thursday night.
The Indians were ousted from the CIAC Division III Tournament by West Haven, which held off Wilcox Tech 68-63 at Maloney High School.
While the fourth-seeded Indians trailed all night, they never let the No. 14 seeded Blue Devils out of their sight.
In fact, Wilcox Tech was within a basket of the Blue Devils with 21 seconds to play. And Meriden’s all-time leading scorer D.J. Ransom had the ball in his hands.
But Ransom never got a shot up. Instead, he was stripped of the ball by Tyrese Hargrove at midcourt.
Hargrove’s ensuing two free throws after being fouled on his way to the basket sealed the win for the Blue Devils. Wilcox Tech finished the season 17-6.
“Basically, the kid fouled me, but I knew the refs weren’t going to call it,” Ransom said.
Ransom, who finished with a game-high 27 points and 2,154 in his distinguished career, battled through several “junk” defenses thrown at him after halftime.
With West Haven (14-9) keeping a man or two on him at all times, he didn’t have the ball much before the game was on the line. Ransom took just two shots in the third quarter and didn’t shoot again until midway through the fourth quarter.
Two of his three field goals after halftime, however, came on back-to-back possessions late in the fourth quarter and had the Indians within 62-60 with 2:23 to play.
Those baskets kept Wilcox Tech close, but they could have tied the game. Wilcox Tech missed two of four free throws after shooting and technical fouls were called on West Haven prior to Ransom’s hoops.
And a trend throughout the game kept West Haven in front: Driving layups. Quannel Straughter and all-SCC guard Mufee Cooper both found their way to the basket for layups as the Blue Devils stretched their lead to 66-60 with 1:45 to play.
“In the second half, free throws or layups, that was the rule,” West Haven coach Tyrese Sullivan said.
Tech’s Bryce McClendon missed a fastbreak layup on Wilcox Tech’s next possession, but West Haven was called for goaltending, the basket counted and the Indians were within 66-62 with 1:16 remaining.
But the Indians couldn’t capitalize after Cooper missed the front-end of a 1-and-1. Ransom’s free throw — his 10th of the game — accounted for the Indians’ final points with 33 seconds to play.
“They made us play a fast-paced game and usually we settle back and aren’t a fast-paced team,” Ransom said. “Towards the end, they ran a box-and-one (on me) or they just followed me around the whole court.
“But it was my fault. I didn’t tell my teammates to set screens for me to get open or for them to go to the basket. I felt like (my teammates) played good overall.”
While out-rebounded and over-matched athletically throughout the game, the Indians never trailed by more than seven points.
And while Ransom got hot in the second quarter with 12 points and kept the Indians close late, Sullivan was determined not to let Ransom beat his team by himself.
“He’s a heck of a player — one of the better players we’ve seen this year,” Sullivan said. “He’s a strong kid; I hope he goes a long way.
“But what we wanted to do was wait until the second half to throw our junk defense at him,” Sullivan added. “It’s hard to adjust in the second half. We just wanted to make it hard on him. We knew he was going to score the ball, but he probably got a little tired down the stretch, and that’s where those turnovers come into play.”
The game was tied four times in the first quarter before West Haven took the lead for good 14-11. Wilcox Tech trailed the Blue Devils 18-15 after one quarter.
With Ransom heating up in the second quarter, his deep 3 tied the game 24-24. But West Haven went on an 11-4 run to take a 35-28 lead with 2:23 to play in the first half. Straughter had back-to-back driving layups in the run, while Cooper (team-high 17 points) added his own driving layup.
Still, Wilcox Tech never went away and trailed 39-34 at halftime.
The Indians got solid contributions from seniors McClendon (18 points), John Soto and Kelvin Santos, who each scored nine points.
That has been the case throughout their careers at Wilcox Tech. Since arriving and playing varsity basketball as freshman, Ransom, Santo and McClendon have “put Wilcox Tech on the map,” said head coach Randy Farkas.
The Indians reached last year’s CIAC Division IV semifinals, which resulted in the bump up to Division III this season. The past three years, the Indians have won 14, 22 and 17 games.
“Nobody thought we could do what we did, but we had confidence we could,” Ransom said.
“The heights that D.J., John and Bryce, the three of them together, coming in as freshman and playing on the varsity,” Farkas said. “It’s been a great run for the three of them.”
All good runs must end. Thursday night was the final chapter in the Ransom & Co. era.