MERIDEN — Playing well enough to stay with, if not beat, the best teams in the CCC is little consolation to Maloney coach Dave Parness.
For the second time this week, the Maloney boys basketball team put itself in position to knock off a CCC South division leader. But, for the second time, the Spartans’ upset bid fell short.
Maloney fell to CCC South-Colonial leader Middletown 73-56 on Friday night three nights after falling at Bristol Central.
Misfiring on crucial shots all night, the Spartans (9-8) still found themselves within a possession or two several times in the second half. While Maloney never led in the game, and fell behind by 10 points at the break, the Spartans cut Middletown’s lead to single digits throughout the third quarter.
Maloney was within 51-47 when Rashawn Wilson (21 points) scored to start the fourth quarter.
Middletown (13-4), however, went on an 12-1 run from there to lead 63-48 with 2:50 to play.
“We just have to make shots and rebound,” Parness said.
The Spartans managed to do the latter. It’s the former task that caused Maloney problems.
“We play defense and try to stick with every team we can,” Wilson said. “It just comes down to getting the ball (to go through) the rim.
“We knew (Middletown) was going to push the tempo,” Wilson added. “We had to slow them down. They are an athletic team.”
Down 35-25 by halftime, the Spartans went on an 8-0 run to get within 39-35 with 4:11 left in the third quarter.
Victor Martinez (17 points) started the run with a 3-pointer. Wilson’s steal led to a Jeremiah Williams fast-break layup. Garrison Kunst’s 3-pointer then capped off the run and got the Spartans as close as they’d been since the start of the second quarter.
Maloney stayed with Middletown the rest of the quarter. A Wilson driving layup and Martinez jumper kept things close, 44-39, with 1:55 to play in the third.
Martinez then made two free throws and Christian Ellison’s driving hoop with 33 seconds left in the quarter made it 49-43.
Maloney trailed 51-45 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Blue Dragon’s athleticism, which took over in the fourth quarter, was on display from the start, as 1,000-point scorer Donte Pope & Co. came out running. Pope, who led Middletown with 18 points and 16 rebounds, had plenty of help.
Middletown started the game on a 12-2 run that forced Parness to call a timeout. Elijah Wilborn scored just six points, but the lanky center set the tone early inside with four of his six blocks in the first quarter. Wilborn also grabbed 13 rebounds.
Following the timeout, two steals and fast-break baskets by Williams (11 points), along with a Wilson basket, got the Spartans within 12-8.
Middletown went back up 17-8 before back-to-back 3’s by Wilson and Martinez ended the first quarter with Maloney down 17-14.
Maloney, however, missed its first nine shots of the second quarter to let Middletown push its lead back to 24-14 on a Pope follow of his own missed 3-pointer.
Wilson’s 3-pointer ended the Maloney drought with 4:07 to play in the half. A Martinez driving hoop made it 26-19 with 2:44 remaining in the half.
The Spartans would start the second quarter 1-of-13 from the field. But Jonathan Nkonoki missed just enough free throws to allow the Spartans to get back in the game with an 8-3 run over the next three minutes.
Wilson’s 12-foot, pull-up jumper after Nkonoki missed two of four free throws got Maloney within 28-21 with 1:45 left in the half.
Nkonoki was fouled again driving, but made just one of two free throws to allow Maloney to get within 29-25 when Wilson came up with a pair of steals to set up Maloney’s next four points.
Christian Ellison made two free throws and Wilson’s steal and driving layup got the Spartans as close as they’d been since the first quarter.
Prior to the Senior Night game, Maloney honored its four seniors: Sergio Muniz, Owen Papciak, Kam Moreno and Wilson.
Middletown’s only losses are to among the CCC’s best teams: Windsor, New Britain, Bristol Central and Glastonbury.
Maloney lost to Middletown 66-36 on Jan. 7. On Tuesday at BC, the Spartans fell behind 27-2 to start the game before closing to within six.