MERIDEN — From sitting on the Southington bench to leading the Blue Knights to a 65-60 CCC crossover victory at Maloney: That summed up Jared Kelly’s night Thursday in the Benjamin Nessing gymnasium.
Kelly led all scorers with 24 points, but only had three at halftime, when the Southington boys basketball team went into the locker room trailing the Spartans 31-23.
Kelly, however, scored seven points in the third quarter and sparked Southington on an 13-0 run to start the second half. He made four of his five 3-pointers after halftime as Southington took the lead for good, 40-38, with 3:32 left in the third quarter.
The victory improved Southington to 7-2 on the season, while the loss snapped Maloney’s two-game winning streak and left the Spartans 6-4 overall.
All but taken out of the game in the first half, Kelly didn’t even attempt a shot in the first quarter. He made his only attempt of the half after sitting out the end of the first quarter and the first minute or so of the second.
Prior to being pulled out of the game, Kelly committed four of Southington’s 11 turnovers in the first half.
“(Sitting) helped; it calmed me down. I deserved to sit the way I was playing,” Kelly said. “At halftime, everyone just calmed me down and told me to play my game and I’d be fine.
“In the second half, I knew I had to come out aggressive,” Kelly added. “We all knew at halftime we had to come out aggressive or they would take it to us, and it wouldn’t even be a game if we didn’t get off to a good start.”
Maloney took a 10-point lead by scoring the first points of the second half on a Garrison Kunst basket. Southington, however, scored the next 13 points to take the lead for good.
Kelly’s second 3 of the game tied it at 36-36. Southington then took the lead on an Aeden Derrick putback with 3:32 left in the third quarter.
Southington ended up outscoring Maloney 24-12 in the third quarter and led the Spartans 47-43 entering the fourth.
Another Kelly 3-pointer started the final frame and put the Blue Knights up 50-43. Kelly scored six of the Blue Knights’ first eight points of the fourth as Southington extended its lead to 56-47 midway through the fourth.
Maloney’s pressure defense kept the home team within striking distance. The Spartans were within 56-51 after a Kam Moreno steal and follow layup by Vincent Martinez. Sergio Muniz then made one of two free throws to get Maloney to 56-52 with 2:39 to play.
But Kelly hit his fifth 3 of the game to put Southington back up 59-52 with 2:21 to play. A Jake Napoli basket and two free throws by both Kelly and Napoli (14 points) kept the Blue Knights in front down the stretch.
“Big shots by Kelly, big shots. He was just off rhythm in the first half,” Southington head coach John Cessario said. “Sometimes, we just need to settle our guys down. They need ‘settle sits.’
“An environment like this sometimes is absorbed and sometimes it isn’t,” Cessario added. “Sometimes you just have to trudge through it. It looked like (Kelly) was pressing a little bit. So, we just made sure all the right parts were moving.
The Spartans trailed 14-10 after one quarter, but Vincent Martinez’s 3-pointer with 6:21 to play in the first half gave Maloney a 17-16 advantage. Rashawn Wilson’s 3 put the Spartans up 20-16. Wilson finished with 14 points.
Martinez, who led Maloney with 19 points, had five points in the second quarter and 12 after halftime.
“We came out really flat after halftime,” Martinez said. “We just couldn’t hit shots.”
Leaving the hottest shooter in the gym open didn’t help matters.
“We just stopped covering guys in transition,” Maloney coach Dave Parness said. “We knew (Kelly) was a shooter and knew where he liked to shoot from. We just have to do a better job of finding shooters in transition.
“This is sort of how we’ve been all year. We have a couple good quarters and a couple bad quarters. We have to learn how to make the bad quarters not so bad.”
Maloney took the lead when it opened the second quarter by making its first four shots. Wilson (14 points) scored five points in the Spartans’ 10-2 run, making a jumper to get the Spartans going and then hitting a 3-pointer to give Maloney the lead and cap off its run.
Kelly made the only shot he took in the first half, a 3-pointer, to end a string of empty Southington possessions and got the Blue Knights within 22-19.
Christian Wilson, however, hit a 3-pointer to put Maloney up 25-19. Kunst’s baseline jumper put the Spartans up 27-23 with just over two minutes to play in the half.
“I preached throughout the timeouts and halftime that if we don’t do the fundamentals, we are going to find it to be a very long night,” Cessario said. “They are a good squad with very good guard play. We know what Martinez can do, but other guys were hitting shots.
“I challenged my guys. And we did what we had to do: Stop guys on the perimeter, finally. Honestly, it’s CCC basketball. Anytime you play a team at home, you have to play your best. And in the second half, we had some guys really make some big plays.”
After Maloney got within five points on a basket by Sergio Muniz (11 points), Dylan Olsen made one of Southington’s bigger shots late in the game. The junior hit a baseline 3-pointer off a nice pass from Kelly midway through the fourth quarter to put Southington up 55-47.
Olsen also had back-to-back buckets in the third quarter to help Southington maintain its lead, 42-38.
Kelly then scored the third quarter’s final five points to give the Blue Knights their advantage entering the fourth.