By David Rooney
Special to the Record-Journal
WALLINGFORD — The Sheehan boys basketball team enjoyed a wire-to-wire victory Tuesday night against East Haven led by its red-hot offense and disruptive defense.
Jack McDonnell notched a game-high 28 points, Garrett Molampy was good for 23 and Kris Jackson added 16 as the Titans, with their 82-71 victory over the Yellowjackets, improved to 8-2 and secured their state playoff berth early.
Sheehan got off to a strong start and led 12-5, but back-to-back 3-pointers by Shea Carasone brought East Haven to within 12-11.
At the end of the first quarter, which closed with Sheehan leading 22-16, McDonnell could be heard yelling, “Defense, come on, they can’t score 16 points on us.”
Although East Haven scored 18 points in the second quarter, Sheehan poured in 28 to extend its lead to 50-34 going into halftime. Molampy had 11 points in the second quarter while McDonnell contributed eight and Jackson added seven, mostly on offensive rebounds and shots in the paint.
The Titans played a very disruptive defense, forcing East Haven into 11 turnovers in the first half, including seven in the first quarter alone as they built up their double-digit lead by halftime.
“We want to make the other team play fast, have to move the ball up the court in a hurry,” said Sheehan coach Joe Gaetano. “We’re pretty long, so we use that to our advantage and we cause turnovers.”
East Haven outscored Sheehan 21-16 in the third quarter to cut into the lead. East Haven closed to within 10 midway through the fourth quarter before Jackson made one of two free throws and McDonnell had a steal and converted the layup to extend the Sheehan lead back to 13 with 4:28 left in the game.
A 3-pointer by East Haven’s Ian Reynolds cut the lead to seven points with 2:52 left in the game, but McDonnell answered with a three of his own.
Sheehan tightened its defense down the stretch, and a rebound by McDonnell off a missed free throw with 24 seconds left sealed the victory for the Titans.
Reynolds led East Haven with 19 points, while fellow guard Alias Ford added 15. Carasone scored 14.
McDonnell described his team as “100 times better when we get out and run in transition.”
McDonnell also gave credit to Jackson for controlling the paint, collecting rebounds and scoring second-chance points.
McDonnell recalled what he told Jackson before the game. “Kris, your the most athletic, biggest guy on the court. Nobody should be able to rebound with you tonight.” McDonnell was huge down the stretch when East Haven rallied and his team needed him the most.
“I just focused on the next play,” he said. “We’ve been talking about that all year for us — the next-play mentality. If somebody makes a mistake, they get a basket, whatever, just move on. Next play, go try and make something happen down the other end.
“Luckily, the shots were falling tonight, so I was able to respond and make plays.”
Sheehan still has work to do in order to achieve postseason success. Sheehan got away from its trademark press defense during the third quarter, when East Haven started to rally and closed the lead to single digits.
Coach Gaetano said, “We have to do a better job defensively,” said Gaetano. “I told the guys, “Congratulations, we just qualified for the state tournament, but the bottom line is, we have to tighten up our defense.’ We really do.”
Sheehan will go across town on Friday to take on rival Lyman Hall. The boys have the second game of the doubleheader, which tips off with the girls game at 5 p.m.