MERIDEN — The final score suggested Maloney didn’t have much trouble beating a winless Lewis Mills squad Friday night. But the Spartans and those who watched their 72-58 CCC interdivisional boys basketball victory at Benjamin Nessing Gym knew better.
Maloney was never in full control and actually trailed entering the fourth quarter before outscoring the Spartans from Burlington/Harwinton 27-12 in the final frame.
The victory improved Maloney to 5-3 on the season and to 3-2 in the CCC. Lewis Mills fell to 0-6.
Vincent Martinez led Maloney with 25 points. He went scoreless, however, in the third quarter when Lewis Mills turned a 36-29 halftime deficit into a 46-45 lead heading into the final eight minutes.
Lewis Mills took the lead on Colby Norton's 3-pointer with 35 seconds to play in the third quarter. Norton led a Lewis Mills team than made seven 3's with 18 points.
After the teams exchanged 3-point field goals to start the fourth, Maloney turned up its defense with a half-court trap that fueled a 20-6 run to take over the game. Maloney took a 61-52 lead with 3:19 to play as Garrison Kunst (15 points, 10 rebounds) had back-to-back dunks off Lewis Mills’ turnovers during the Spartans’ run.
Maloney’s defense and Knust’s dunks not only ignited the fans, but added to Maloney’s momentum.
“Coach was telling me I had to be more aggressive, especially after the last couple of games,” Kunst said. “I really wasn’t playing my best. Tonight, I had to come out and get it going.
“We had to get momentum, especially after that third quarter,” Kunst added. “As soon as the fourth hit, we had to get it going. The dunks really helped.”
With Kunst’s dunks and Maloney’s defense providing a spark, Martinez found his touch just enough times to help stretch the Spartans’ lead.
Martinez missed all six of his shots from the field in the third quarter, but scored 12 in the fourth. He made three of six shots in fourth, including a 3 that put Maloney up 58-52 with 4:10 to play. Martinez also made three of four free throws down the stretch after scoring a game-high 13 points in the first half.
“I knew I wasn’t making my shots, so I had to just do the best I could,” Martinez said. “I knew we were a better team than them, they just wanted it more.”
“Going into the fourth quarter I told the guys we needed to push harder,” Martinez added.
The Spartans took a 67-52 lead with 1:38 to play on a Martinez basket, two of his three free throws and Rashawn Wilson’s layup. Wilson finished with 17 points and was a catalyst on defense with four steals.
Maloney’s fourth-quarter comeback came amid eight of Lewis Mills’ 18 turnovers in the game. Lewis Mills turned the ball over on six of seven possessions at one point in the fourth quarter to allow Maloney to pull away.
“We had a really good second quarter and really good fourth quarter,” Maloney head coach Dave Parness said. “Our pressure was able to create some turnovers and energy.
“There were a few guys who stepped up, and we have enough guys who can play, so we don’t have to rely on one guy (Martinez).”
The fourth-quarter pressure wasn’t the first time Maloney turned its defense into offense. The Spartans also used defense to take a halftime lead.
Trailing 17-13 after the first quarter, the Spartans started the second quarter on a 14-2 run. Maloney’s trapping pressure caused havoc and several easy transition baskets.
Maloney took a 21-19 lead with 5:31 left in the half on Kunst’s first dunk of the game off a steal. Two more Lewis Mills’ turnovers and a Jeremiah Williams’ 3 gave Maloney a 24-19 lead.
Martinez then hit a 3 and Wilson followed with a layup. Maloney was suddenly up 27-19 in the second quarter.
“I think we won that game defensively,” Parness said. “We ran some good offense, but we didn’t make shots. The biggest difference was our transition off our defense.”
Missing shots led to a 30-point loss Tuesday night at Middletown. And after scoring the game’s first five points, cold shooting set in and saw the Spartans miss 11 of their first 16 shots Friday night.
The game was tied 9-9, but Maloney missed five of its next six shots to temporarily fall behind.