GUILFORD — No. 6 Guilford jumped out to a 15-0 lead and never looked back in a 65-58 CIAC Division II state boys basketball tournament victory over Maloney on Tuesday night.
The Spartans fought back throughout the game, eventually closing within six points late in the contest, but couldn’t get over the hump.
Seeking their first state tournament win since 2016, the Spartans instead saw their season end at 11-11.
Guilford, coached by Wallingford’s Jeff DeMaio, improved to 16-5 and moves on to host No. 22 Stamford (13-8) in the second round on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
Guilford was led by a trio in double figures: Luke Ste. Marie (20 points, 8 rebounds), Justin Hess (19 points, 7 rebounds) and Riley Swan (14 points).
“When we shoot it well we are very tough to guard,” DeMaio said. “We have three guys that can really shoot it.
“But the 3-ball can be a little bit of fool’s gold, too. We didn’t have any in the second half. We were up 15 at the half and it didn’t feel like it, and I knew it would tighten up. Maloney is a very good, solid team. They are going to be a dangerous team next year.”
Maloney was paced by Mekhi Seth’s 21 points, Marquis Ward’s 12, Donte Kelly’s 10 and Jesus Martell’s 9.
In the first half, it was raining Guilford 3-pointers as the hosts held a 44-29 lead at the break.
The Grizzlies shot 9-for-13 from 3-point land in the first 16 minutes. They were red-hot in the in the first quarter, shooting 6-for-7 from distance.
“We battled back,” Maloney coach Dave Parness said. “They shot the ball really well in the first half. That was one of the best shooting performances I’ve seen over a 10-12 minute span.”
Ste. Marie had four treys and Swan had three. Hess added two and had a game-high 16 points at the half.
The blistering 15-0 run to start the game lasted 4:08 as Ste. Marie, Swan and Hess were all connecting on shots.
The Grizzlies also dominated the boards in the first half behind Ste. Marie, Kevin Goldberg (15 rebounds) and Brendan Skoglund (8 points, 6 rebounds). Goldberg also blocked three shots in the opening half.
Guilford’s biggest lead of the first half was 37-17 after a 12-3 spurt early in the second quarter that was capped by back-to-back hoops by Hess.
Maloney responded with 12-5 run that was highlighted by Seth, who had a team-high 14 points at the half.
The third quarter was a different story, as the Spartans used a 9-2 run to close out the frame with two steals and layups by Kelly in the closing minute of the quarter.
Heading to the fourth quarter, it was 51-44 Guilford.
“We had nine 3-pointers in the first half and zero in the second half,” DeMaio noted. “Their coaching staff did a great job taking away the 3-point line in the second half.
“Maloney is a solid team and played great in the second half.”
Seth started the third quarter with a driving layup and a trey. He picked up his fourth foul of the game with 5:20 remaining in the third quarter and didn’t enter the game again until early in the fourth quarter.
Guilford took back momentum by scoring the first six points of the fourth quarter to go back up 57-44 on a banker and a drive by Swan and a put-back by Skoglund.
Maloney answered with a 7-0 spurt of its own to force a Guilford timeout with 3:27 left in the game. Martell started the run with a corner 3-ball. Tadrique Jones followed with a tip-in and Kelly added another steal and blistering layup through the lane as the Spartans inched within six, 57-51.
“It was frustrating because we had our chances,” Parness said. “We had chances to score and cut it even closer and we missed a couple wide open layups.”
Maloney had a shot to pull to within three with 20 seconds left, but the shot rimmed out. In the rebounding action, technical fouls were called on Ste. Marie and Jones. The Maloney senior was also ejected from the game.
“I think it was just frustration,” Parness said.
Parness said his Spartans gave him a fun year. Jones is the only graduating senior. Everyone else will be back.
“They were super-coachable and bought in,” the head coach said. “Hopefully, we can keep it going next year.”