MERIDEN — Platt junior Deante Torres and senior teammate Anthony Nimani rushed to halfcourt and did a celebration after the final buzzer went off. Platt head coach Shawon Moncrief embraced with his assistants before the handshakes with Jonathan Law.
On Friday night, the Panthers enjoyed an expereince no other Platt boys basketball team had done before: a victory in a state quarterfinal and a berth in the state semifinals.
No. 6 Platt built a seven-point lead by halftime, then used a 12-0 run to open the second half and never looked back in a 58-47 win over No. 3 Jonathan Law in Friday’s CIAC Division III quarterfinals in Milford.
It’s been a long time coming for the Panthers, who had lost in three previous trips to the state quarterfinals, most recently in 1998.
The current cast of Panthers has been led for the past four years by Nimani. A standout since his freshman season, Nimani became Platt boys basketball’s all-time leading scorer this winter and has brought the team to new heights. The Panthers were just 1-19 in his freshman campaign.
Now, after following up Wednesday’s 62-51 victory over No. 11 Bunnell in the second round with another 11-point victory over Law in the quarterfinals, Platt is one win away from advancing to next weekend’s state championship at Mohegan Sun Arena.
“The past two wins we played really well and won by double digits,” Nimani said. “We are trying to get to Mohegan. This is special. Nobody would have thought a few years ago we would be at this point. We were 1-19 my freshman year. To be at this point right now is really special.”
■The next stop is the state Division III semifinals against No. 2 Waterbury Career Academy on Tuesday night on the neutral floor of Naugatuck High. Tip-off is 7 p.m.
WCA (22-3) won its quarterfinal 64-63 over No. 7 Killingly on Friday night. WCA was also the Naugatuck Valley League Tournament champion.
“Career is a fast, aggressive team, similar to Bunnell,” Moncrief said. “They have a lot of toughness and grit, and make a lot of 3’s. We have to keep them in front of us. We have to take care of the ball because they will try to turn us over.”
Platt stands at 20-5 after defeating a physical Law squad from the Southern Connecticut Conference on its home floor. The Lawmen (19-5) closed to within nine in the fourth, but got no closer.
“We feel good about it,” Moncrief said. “It was a total team effort. The kids stepped up in a very hostile environment against a very strong team. We stuck to the game plan and came through.”
The Panthers were once again led by the dynamic duo of Nimani and junior forward Makhai Anderson. Nimani had a double-double with 23 points and a season-high 16 rebounds. Anderson scored a game-high 24 points.
John Neider, the 2022 Gatorade State Player of the Year in football, led Law with 13 points.
In the 12-0 run that extended the 24-17 halftime lead to 36-17 in the opening two minutes of the third quarter, Platt forced five Law turnovers and shot 5-for-6 from the field. Anderson highlighted the run with a two-handed slam and full-throated roar.
“We wanted to keep up the pressure and speed them up,” Nimani said of the third-quarter run. “We wanted to play our way of basketball.”
Moncrief noted that Platt used a lot of players to apply pressure defense during the run.
“We played a lot of guys and we thought they were getting worn down,” Moncrief said. “We put in more guys and everyone worked their tails off, and that sparked the run.”
Platt’s defense was also blistering in the second quarter, when a 6-0 run over the first 4:50 of the frame gave Platt a 17-10 lead. In that stretch, Law shot 0-for-6 and turned the ball over six times.
Law’s Lenny Laleggio eventually snapped the drought with a 3-ball with 3:10 to go in the half. Nimani, though, was starting to cook. He scored nine of Platt’s 13 points for the second quarter and punctuated the period with a deep trey with 0:20 on the clock.
Platt’s 12-0 run out of the halftime locker room put the Panthers up 36-17. Justin Black started it with a trey. Nimani kept it rolling with three driving hoops.
Anderson did pick up his third foul during the run and Law responded with six straight points, capped by a three-point play by Cameron Upchurch that made the score 36-23 with 3:18 to go in the third quarter.
Nimani countered with a three-point play of his own and then a transition pull-up jumper to carry the offense with Anderson on the bench.
Throughout the night, Nimani was a monster on the boards.
“He was very strong on the boards and we knew we had to rebound strong,” Moncrief said. “He was up against a strong specimen in Neider. We had to rebound strong the first time the ball came off the rim.”
Down 43-27 after three quarters of play, Law opened the fourth on a 10-3 run that included treys by Upchurch and Laleggio. Law closed within single digits for the first time in the second half, 46-37, with 4:58 left in the fourth quarter.
“We knew we had to get a lead because we know that team wouldn’t stop coming back,” Anderson said. “We had to keep it up.”
Law had five 3-point opportunities over the next 1:30, but each of them rimmed out.
Platt responded with a 9-3 run that put the game away for good. Anderson had back-to-back hoops with under two minutes to go. The second was an old-fashioned three-point play that put Platt up 55-40 with 1:41 to go.
As the final seconds ticked off, the party was on for the large Platt contingent that had made the trip from Meriden to Milford.
“We made history,” Nimani said. “Platt has never made it to the semifinals and we want to keep it going.”
“We feel good about this, but the job isn’t done,” Moncrief echoed. “The goal is to get to Mohegan and win a championship.”