BOYS BASKETBALL: Platt roars into first state quarterfinal in 25 years and, yes, it’s time to fight the Law

MERIDEN — Platt made big play after big play in its 62-51 CIAC Division III second-round boys basketball win over Bunnell on Wednesday night in front of a lively crowd at Platt High School.

The Panthers finished the game on a 24-7 run over the final seven minutes in what was their last home game of the season.

Now it’s on to the quarterfinals for the first time since 1998. The No. 6 Panthers go up against No. 3 Jonathan Law on Friday night in Milford at 7 p.m. The Lawmen advanced with a 54-31 win over No. 19 Wethersfield.

Platt head coach Shawon Moncrief said Friday’s game will be a contrast in styles. Law (19-4) wins many of its games scoring in the 50s. Platt (19-5), which has gone for more than 80 points in eight games this season, wants to play at a brisk pace.

“They are an SCC team and play against tough competition,” Moncrief noted. “They are well-coached and well-structured. We need to lock down on defense and speed up the game. We want to get them to play our style of game.”

Law is led by 6-foot-3 senior forward John Neider, the UConn-bound football standout who was named CT Gatorade Player of the Year in that sport, and 6-foot-6 senior center Nolan McKenna-Hansen.

“Law uses a community effort and multiple guys do different things, but Neider and their big man carry most of the load,” Moncrief said. “They will play a hard-nose defense and will be physical. Offensively, they will run their sets and be patient. They use lots of flex cuts and we have to be patient. We need to play disciplined defense and rebound the ball on the first attempt.” 

Platt goes in led by the 1-2 tandem of senior guard Anthony Nimani and Makhai Anderson. Both were big in the second half Wednesday against No. 11 Bunnell as the Panthers rallied from as many as nine down. Anderson had 17 points after halftime and Nimani had 16.

Nimani finished with a game-high 25 points. Anderson delivered a double-double 21 points and 10 rebounds despite not feeling well before the game.

“Since it’s one-and-done, I had to step up for the team,” Anderson said. “We had to pick it up in the second half and, if we didn’t, we were going to lose.”

“One person is responsible for the big second half: Makhai Anderson,” Moncrief said. “He was a little under the weather and he pushed through. Only a handful of teams can match up with him. He’s a mismatch for a lot of teams.”

Anderson said he’s excited to get a chance to play Law.

“I feel it will be a good game and we have to play tougher than we did today,” Anderson said. “We have to play with the same urgency we did in the second half tonight for the entire game against Law.”

This is Platt’s fourth-ever trip the the state quarterfinals after making it in 1983, 1994 and 1998. Platt has never made it to the semifinals, let alone a state championship game. This year’s team has had its sights set on Championship Weekend at Mohegan Sun Arena since the start of the season.

“This was a big win tonight, but we aren’t getting too excited because we have another big game,” Anderson said. “We want to get to Mohegan really badly and that’s the only goal we have: to make it to the final and win the championship. We have to do it step by step.”

Against Bunnell, Anderson’s bucket with 3:47 left in the game gave the Panthers their first lead since midway through the second quarter, 48-47. Platt never trailed after that point.

Junior guard Deante Torres provided what proved to be the dagger: a trey with 2:21 to go that put the Panthers up 53-48. It was Torres’ lone bucket of the game, but it came at the right time.

Nimani had Platt’s first eight points of the fourth quarter, helping the Panthers erase a 44-38 deficit. Nimani and Torres also took charges in the fourth quarter as Platt played with more urgency on defense.

Another massive factor in the game was foul shooting. Platt shot a season-best 18-for-21 from the charity stripe, while the Bulldogs were just 7-for-18.

Moncrief had the Panthers shooting free throws for a half hour at Tuesday’s practice and it paid off on Wednesday night.

“Every practice we focus on free throws,” Nimani said. “We really focused on hitting free throws.”

Bunnell (13-9) got after it from the opening tip and gave the Panthers nothing easy. The Stratford school led by as many as nine points in the third quarter. Sophomore guard Nathaniel Banton led the way for the Bulldogs with 17 points.

“We have much respect for Bunnell,” said Moncrief. “That was one of the hardest teams we have played all year. They played hard.”

Bunnell held a 29-24 lead at the half after forcing 13 Platt turnovers.The Bulldogs also shot 6-for-10 from 3-point land. All six treys came from different players.

Bunnell led 16-11 after one quarter after holding Nimani to just two points in the quarter. Four of Bunnell’s six field goals in the first quarter were treys.

Bunnell’s biggest first-half lead was 19-11 after a Jay Munoz trey to open the second quarter.

Platt responded with a 7-0 run over the next 4:35 to go back up 20-19. The run started with a Nimani drive and a banked 3-ball. It was capped with a deuce from Jason Delevante.

The Bulldogs answered with a 10-4 run to close the half and take a 29-24 advantage into the break. Both teams spread the wealth with scoring in the first half. Bunnell had seven scorers and Platt had five.

Bunnell opened the third quarter shooting 3-for-3 from the field. A minute into the second half, J.T. Turnage and Banton had back-to-back hoops as the visitors took their biggest lead of the game, 33-24.

Later in the quater, Platt ripped off a 7-0 run with three hoops from Anderson and a free throw from Nimani to close within 35-34.

Banton, though, had two late buckets and Bunnell held a 44-39 lead after three quarters.

Platt regained the lead, 48-47, with 3:43 to go on a driving layup by Anderson. The play was set up when Nimani took a charge at the other end that drew a massive roar from the crowd.

“In the locker room we talked about playing more aggressive,” Nimani said. “We were rebounding better and making smarter decisions. We locked in and stayed together.

“This was a big win; there was a lot on the line,” Nimani added. “We fought through the adversity. I told myself, ‘We can’t lose this game.’”

Following a Bunnell turnover, Platt made it 50-47 with a pair of free throws from Anderson.

Torres picked a great time for his first points of the game with a 3-ball with 2:21 to put the Panthers up 53-48.

“I knew it was my job to make that shot and it went in,” Torres said. “It did it for Coach Shawon and my team. They pushed me to keep pushing it. That’s one of the biggest shots I’ve ever made.”

Justin Black followed with a steal for Platt. Anderson continued his big second half with a put-back and a three-point play as Platt went up 58-51 with 1:15 to go. 

Josh Day added a field goal and Nimani finished the scoring with a pair from the line. Anderson had a block in between as the Panthers dribbled it out and celebrated the postseason win.

“This is big,” Nimani said. “This is big for Platt. It’s been a while since this side of Meriden had a team make it this far. We are still taking this one game at a time. We want to keep this going as much as possible.”

“They stepped up and didn’t want to go home early,” Moncrief said. “They didn’t want the season to end.”


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