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BOYS BASKETBALL: Xavier pulls away late from Sheehan in SCC first-rounder

BOYS BASKETBALL: Xavier pulls away late from Sheehan in SCC first-rounder

MIDDLETOWN — Sheehan captain Kris Jackson’s game-high 20 points were not enough to lift his team over Xavier on Thursday night, as the Titans were knocked out of the SCC Tournament and will have to be patient and prepare for the state playoffs. 

Kareem Grisham scored a team-high 19 points. Parker Hunter added 17 and Stephen Kohs had 16 as the seventh-seededFalcons beat No. 10 Sheehan 62-52 to advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals at Branford. Xavier will face No. 2 Hillhouse. Sheehan (13-8) returns home to await its state tournament seeding.

“We played well tonight. If we play like this in states, I like our chances,” said Sheehan coach Joe Gaetano.

Jack McDonnell and Stanley Franzik each had 10points for the Titans on Thursday. Garrett Molampy scored six. Tyler Guercia and Tyler Carmen both contributed three.

The game was tied 15-15 at the end of the first quarter after both teams took turns going on mini-runs. Xavier point guard Marcus Williams scored two quick threes at the beginning of the game as the Falcons started out strong, but Sheehan stepped up defensively to limit his opportunities.

At the other end, the Titans played well in the paint to work their way back. Jackson scored the first four points on layups, while Franzik made two layups and a 3-pointer to lead Sheehan with seven points in the quarter.

McDonnell was held scoreless in the first quarter, but contributed defensively with two steals.

Despite not scoring, Sheehan coach Joe Gaetano said McDonnell and Molampy both found other ways to contribute in this game.

“It doesn’t matter who’s scoring the points,” Gaetano said. “I thought both Jack and Garrett played excellent defense tonight, Kris had a big night, Stanley came up big for us. It’s a team thing,”

The game continued to be back and forth in the second quarter as both teams fought to gain an edge, and the score remained tied again going into halftime, 24-24.

McDonnell hit a 3-pointer midway through the second quarter for his first points, and Jackson added four more points to go along with two blocks, as he made his presence known on the defensive end.

In the third quarter, with one minute left and Sheehan winning 34-33, Xavier rattled off seven straight points to take a six-point lead courtesy of a 3-pointer and two steals that led to layups.

McDonnell made a floater to stop the bleeding, then stole the ball and passed it ahead to Carmen, who was fouled and split the free-throws. That cut Xavier’s lead to three points, 40-37, going into the final quarter.

Hunter scored four straight points for the Falcons to open the fourth quarter as they took a 46-39 lead with 5:46 left in the game.

With 4:30 left, McDonnell hit his second 3 of the game to cut Xavier’s lead to 47-42.

After Xavier responded with a layup, Molampy scored a layup and drew contact. He converted the free-throw to cut Xavier’s lead to four.

Going into the final 90 seconds of regulation, Xavier maintained its four-point lead. After Sheehan intentionally fouled and Kohs converted both free throws, it looked as if Jackson had a chance for a three-point play. However, the call was a charge and the ball went back to Xavier.

Sheehan fouled Kohs again, who made both free throws and extended Xavier’s lead to eight points with 59 seconds left in the game. Two more free throws for Hunter iced it at 62-52.

Gaetano noted that, while the final margin was 10 points, the game was close throughout. If a few plays had gone Sheehan’s way, he said, the Titans could have been looking at a different result.

“We missed a few shots late, gave up a couple open looks, and that’s all it takes,” Gaetano said.

Jackson added that his team had an effective game plan and just needed to work on execution, especially defensively.

“We just need to work on our defense, especially in late game situations, not losing our thoughts, and staying together no matter what happens, just keep going,” Jackson said.

Despite Thursday’s setback, Gaetano doesn’t believe it will hurt his team’s mindset moving into the CIAC tournament.

“I have seven seniors. They know what’s on the line. And I’ve got a junior in Jack who plays like a senior,” the veteran coach said. “They know what they’ve got to do. It’s survive and advance. It’s one game at a time, do the little things.”

“I think we learned a lot from this loss,” Jackson said. “We’re gonna go back to practice, take the heat and anger we feel from this loss and turn it into something positive as we get ready for states.”