NEW HAVEN — Head coach Rob Ruys hinted before the season that this could be a big year for Lyman Hall boys basketball, and he and the team delivered with a banner campaign.
The top-seeded Trojans won the program’s first-ever SCC Tournament championship on Friday evening behind suffocating defense, holding No. 2 East Haven scoreless over the final 5:45 to win the SCC Division II title 34-26 at the Floyd Little Athletic Center.
“I’m so happy for these kids,” said Ruys, who was named the the SCC Division II Coach of the Year. “They’ve been playing their whole lives together. They work so hard in practice and in the offseason and just did everything right. It’s been a pleasure working with all of them. I’m just proud of everyone.”
“Some people didn’t think we would have a season,” noted senior co-captain Ty Voisine. “So to come and do what we have done, it’s great.”
Voisine, the point guard, was named the Tournament MVP. He finished with just five points in the championship contest, but headed Lyman Hall’s dominant defense and was a steady ballhandler throughout.
“This is huge for the program because it hasn’t been done before. We’ve worked hard for this all of our lives,” Voisine said. “We’ve been playing good defense all year, shutting teams down. This is a good team with good shooters and we had to shut them down.”
East Haven (9-5) led 26-22 on a drive by Ian Reynolds with 5:45 remaining in the fourth quarter. Those would be the Yellowjackets’ final points of the game. Lyman Hall (13-2) ended the contest on a 12-0 run.
Cam Pragano, who scored a team-high nine points, provided the fourth-quarter spark for LH. He swished a trey from the top of the key with 5:18 to go, then made a steal in the front court that earned him a trip to the line. The sophomore calmly knocked down a pair from the charity stripe as the Trojans went up 27-26 and never looked back.
As East Haven missed shots over the final four minutes, Lyman Hall’s deliberate half-court offense against the EH zone took even more time each possession.
Also, to that point the Yellowjackets had committed only two fouls and eventually were forced to give them. These factors forced the Yellowjackets to go man-to-man after their zone defense had been successful all game.
Lyman Hall ended two lengthy possessions with buckets. The first came at the 2:30 mark by Jayden Collingham (8 points). The second was a close-range bank shot by Luke O'Reardon (6 points) at the 1:05 mark that put LH up 31-26.
LH was 3-for-6 from the line in the final minute. Pragano capped the scoring by hitting both ends of a 1-and-1 with four seconds left.
“I want to be the guy with the ball in my hands in a big spot,” Pragano said. “We were scoring a lot and I decided to take matters in my own hands and take shots.
“It feels great,” he added. “Last year we weren’t the best team, but now we are champions.”
In between the Trojans scoring points, the LH defense wouldn’t allow East Haven to hit anything down the stretch.
“Defense has been our forte all year,” Ruys said. “We grind it. We try to keep teams under 40 points a game and to hold them to 26...”
The Trojans set a good tone in the early going. They led 15-7 after one quarter spurned on by an 11-0 spurt. In the closing seconds of the first, Voisine drilled a 3-ball and then set up Evan Smith for a trey at the buzzer.
Lyman Hall held a 15-14 lead at the half despite going scoreless for the entire second quarter. For the frame, East Haven outscored LH 7-0 with buckets by Nick Furino and Trey Garea and a trey by Ian Reynolds.
Reynolds had eight points at the half and finished with a game-high 13.
Lyman Hall was 0-for-7 from the field in the second quarter after shooting 4-for-9 in the first.
“We knew were better than how we were playing in the first half; we didn’t come all this way to be shut out,” Voisine said.
East Haven opened the third quarter with treys by Alias Ford and Reynolds that put the Yellowjackets ahead 20-15.
Collingham broke a 13-0 East Haven run with a bucket at the 3:27 mark of the third quarter. That hoop broke a 12 minute, 13 second scoring drought for Lyman Hall.
The Yellow Jackets led 23-22 after three quarters, setting up Lyman Hall’s big fourth quarter, particuarly on the defensive end of the floor.
“Defense wins championships and that’s why we won the game,” O'Reardon said. “It was a full team effort. We’ve been playing our entire lives for this. We changed the culture here to a program that works hard and we just work hard every day in practice. That’s what it comes down to.”
The Yellowjackets won the lone regular season meeting between these teams 52-39 on March 3 in Wallingford. That game was close throughout before East Haven pulled away in the fourth.
Friday was the first SCC final for both teams. It was also the first time the conference went to two divisions for the SCC Tournament.
“We are going to remember this forever,” O’Reardon said. “We’ve been thinking about this the last two days since we won in the semis. We wanted to leave here as champions.”
Earlier on Friday, West Haven won the Division I contest over Notre Dame-West Haven, 69-49.