Excitement builds around Platt boys basketball ahead of semifinal

MERIDEN — There’s an excitement around Platt this week as the boys basketball team is preparing for its first-ever state semifinal appearance.

The anticipation will have to build for one more day as the game was postponed from Tuesday to Wednesday.

Everything else remains the same. The No. 6 Panthers will square off against No. 2 Waterbury Career Academy in the CIAC Division III semifinals at Naugauck High School. Tip-off is scheduled for 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. Platt is 20-5 and coming off a 58-47 quarterfinal win in Milford over No. 3 Jonathan Law.

The Panthers celebrated on the ride home on Friday, took Saturday off and then went back to practice on Sunday.

“We’re focused on the next game,” Platt coach Shawon
Moncrief said Monday. “The
celebration is over and the task at hand is even bigger than the last one. We are focused and excited to move on to the next round.”

The Spartans of Waterbury Career Academy have been on the Platt radar throughout the season. Moncrief knew WCA would be an elite team in Division III and has done his homework on the Waterbury magnet school.

“I’m sure they are doing their homework on us as well,” Moncrief said. “They are a scrappy team and this is going to be a fight until the end.”

Moncrief mentioned 6-foot-3 junior Zaire Lott, 6-foot senior Sonny Pierce and 5-foot-9 junior Andrew Williams as three of WCA’s top players.

“I know those guys are pretty active offensively, but anyone on their roster is capable of scoring,” Moncrief said.

The Spartans, winners of eight in a row, have four players averaging double figures. Pierce leads the team with 18.9 points a game. Lott nets 17.6, Williams 16.7 and senior Jason Canady 16.4.

Platt is led by the program’s all-time leading scorer, senior guard Anthony Nimani, and junior forward Makhai Anderson. Both average in the mid 20s.

Nimani has 1,590 career points heading into Wednesday night. Anderson has 933 points in his two years at Platt. He transfered from Hamden after his freshman season.

Those two carry the bulk of the scoring for Platt and garner many of the headlines, but Moncrief added that 6-foot-5 junior Jason Delevante, junior guard Justin Black, freshman Efrain Brown and senior Josh Day have all contributed in ways other than scoring.

Anderson scored a game-high 24 points against Law and got the Panthers off to a strong start in the opening quarter.

He picked up his third foul early in the second quarter against Law and sat for the final five minutes of the half. Foul trouble was never an issue in the second half, and Moncrief said that is a sign of growth for the junior.

The Panthers will enter the semifinal at full strength, with Nimani coming off of a 23-point, 16-rebound performance against Law.

“He knows every game could be his last,” Moncrief said of Nimani, who has been selected to play in the CHSCA All-Star Game. “He’s playing with that sense of urgency. He is All-Conference and should be All-State and he will get some other team awards.

“He’s the ultimate team guy, but he wants to be a winner. He wants that on his resume and he’s focused on winning two more games,” the Platt coach edded. “Mohegan has been our goal from the preseason. I think our success is a testament to his hard work and dedication and he’s shining as the lights are getting brighter.”

Moncrief compared WCA to Bunnell, the Panthers second-round opponent. Platt won that game 62-51 in Meriden after erasing a nine-point deficit in the second half.

At Law, Platt led by seven at the break and then extended the lead to 19 by scoring 12 unanwered points over the first two minutes of the second half.

“Against Law, we were just playing man to man, but we buckled down and played good defense,” Moncrief said. “The key of that game was to limit Law to one shot and Anthony had 16 rebounds and most of them were on the defensive boards.

“We gave up one shot most times down floor and we have to do that against WCA,” Moncried added. “WCA has four guards who can all shoot and one guy on the glass who does all of the dirty work and sets screens.”

The semifinal game could be up and down. Both teams have scored into the 80s this season.

“It’s going to be come down to who controls the glass,” Moncrief said. “We are focusing on rebounding. If we can limit them to one shot, it will be a good night for us.”

Platt heads to its first-ever state semifinal just three years removed from the 1-19 campaign of 2019-20. Nimani and Day were freshmen on that team.

“Anthony and Josh gutted it out and I’m so happy for them; it shows what dedication and discipline will do for you,” Moncrief said. “It’s not always easy going to practice and listening to your coach when your team is 1-19, but those guys stuck with it.”

Moncrief said he feels the excitement around school

“I feel it from the teachers to the administration to the student body,” the coach said. “Everyone is pretty excited and we will have some fans at the game and we have a good support system for our athletes. The game against WCA is going to be a fun atmosphere. Everyone is excited.”

Moncrief also said the Panthers have played with a chip on their shoulder since the beginning of the season.

“We’ve thought since the beginning of the season that we were one of the better teams in the state,” Moncrief said. “I thought we deserved a little more respect. The guys weren’t happy about some of the predictions and write-ups. They play with that anger and chip.

“The basketball community is a small and tight community. We see each other all year round,” Moncrief continued. “If they know they aren’t getting the respect they deserve, it sits on the soul a little bit. It can also be used as motivation and we’ve been taking it and spinning that as well.”

No. 1 Bloomfield and No. 4 New London are on the other side of the bracket.

Wednesday’s winners meet in the Division III final this weekend at Mohegan Sun.


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