SOUTHINGTON — How has the Southington basketball team won seven straight games to surge into first place in the CCC West-Colonial Division?
Friday night provided the biggest answer: stellar defense.
Southington beat Hall 54-36 on a Senior Night that featured a matchup of CCC West-Colonial Division co-leaders. The Blue Knights held the Warriors to just five points in the third quarter and 17 after halftime.
The win — Southington’s seventh in a row — gives the Blue Knights (11-6, 5-3 West-Colonial) a one-game lead over Hall (10-7, 4-4) in the division. Both teams play Conard and Northwest Catholic to close out their Colonial schedules.
Jared Kelly once again led Southington with 17 points. Colin Burdette added 11 points as Southington avenged a 51-46 loss to Hall in West Hartford earlier this season.
But it was the Blue Knights’ effort on the other end of the court that was most impressive.
“We held another team to under 40 (points),” Southington head coach John Cessario said. “That’s a huge accomplishment against a team like Hall.
“It’s the oldest story in the book: Defense allows you to stay in games and close games out,” Cessario added. “It’s a thorn in the side of the other team when you can get five guys to commit themselves when they don’t have the ball.”
Southington frustrated not only Hall as a whole, but specifically senior guard James DeCrisantis. The outside threat who came into the game averaging over 13 points a game missed all seven shots he took in the first half, including five from behind the 3-point arc. He finished with just two points, both on free throws.
Hall’s struggles really started, however, in the third quarter. The Warriors made just three field goals in the first 15 minutes of the second half. And after Cessario pulled his starters, Hall added two baskets in the final minute.
With Hall missing and turning the ball over, Southington simply added to its halftime advantage. The Blue Knights led 34-24 entering the fourth quarter and opened up a 20-point lead with 3:32 to play.
“We can’t pressure or trap them; if you don’t turn them over, they are going to move the ball and get open shots,” Hall head coach Bryan Moretti said. “But we just couldn’t put the ball in the basket.”
Neither could the Blue Knights in the second quarter. Southington didn’t make a field goal in that frame until 35 seconds remained in the half.
Southington’s lack of offense allowed Hall to take a 19-14 lead by scoring the first nine points of the second quarter. Hall senior Maxwell Boyd – the biggest player on the court – led the way for the Warriors with eight of his team-high 10 points in the first half. But without an outside compliment, Hall wasn’t able to take full advantage of Southington’s scoring drought.
And after missing their first seven shots of the second quarter and committing four turnovers, it took the Blue Knights all of eight seconds to regain the lead.
Burdette’s short jumper tied the game 19-19 and Southington regained the lead moments later when Ryan Gesnaldo stole an inbounds pass and fed Jacob Flynn for a layup. Flynn was fouled on the play and made the free throw to give Southington its 22-19 lead at halftime.
It was also Gesnaldo’s defense on DeCrisantis that allowed the Blue Knights to stay in touch with the Warriors despite their scoring drought.
“How about that? We don’t score for 7½ minutes and still go into the half with a lead,” Cessario said. “We weren’t a comfort zone, but we knew we were in it against a team that had beaten us.”
With Jacob Flynn, Adam Hunter and Billy Wadolowski crashing the offensive glass, and Jake DelMonte contributing key minutes off the bench in the second half, the Blue Knights opened up a double-digit lead in the third quarter and never led by less than 10 over the final eight minutes.
“We wanted to shut them down defensively,” Flynn said. “We wanted to mix things up — go man, zone, throw different looks at (DeCrisantis). We knew he is a great player.”
How each team was able to respond to its offensive struggles was instrumental in Southington’s win.
The Blue Knights let a first-quarter lead get away from them in the second quarter, but stayed within a basket or two of the Warriors. Hall, meanwhile, let Southington build 32-21 lead in the third quarter.
Out of the halftime locker room, Flynn’s offensive rebound and basket started a 10-2 Southington run that featured five points from Kelly and a 3-pointer by Burdette that capped the run.
With Hall missing its first three shots and committing six turnovers, Southington’s lead grew to as many as 12 in the third quarter on a pair of Kelly free throws.
Flynn then opened the fourth with a basket. DelMonte’s jumper gave Southington a 38-25 lead. The Blue Knights then got another 3 from Burdette and opened up a 48-28 lead on Hunter’s free throw.
Kelly picked up where he left off earlier this week, scoring seven of the Blue Knights’ 14 points in the first quarter. Kelly’s layup and 3-pointer accounted for Southington’s first five points. He added another driving layup later in the period that ended with Southington up 14-10.
Kelly scored 20 in Southington’s win Wednesday night over Simsbury and had 24 in the Blue Knights’ victory at Tolland.
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