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New London Funny how it works: The patience with which Holy Cross of Waterbury carved New London High School's defense Thursday night came proportionate to the impatience growing in the crowd of 1,200 fans at Conway Gym.
And soon, the 12th-ranked Crusaders had a 10-point lead early in the third period, creating the very real possibility that New London's final game at home this season would be the final game period.
"Doug said to us, 'this is our last game here. We can't lose," junior Keith Porter said in a far happier locker room, alluding to senior guard Doug Henton.
Soon, the fifth-seeded Whalers decided to play four guards and go small, a move that paid off big enough to earn them a 56-48 win in the second round of the Class LL state tournament.
New London (23-2) advances to the quarterfinals Monday night at 7 vs. fourth-seeded Windsor at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain. The game was moved from Windsor High School to Central to accommodate fans who would want to see a game between the top two teams in the latest New Haven Register media poll.
Holy Cross finished 17-8.
Porter scored eight of his 16 points in the fourth period, including a volcanic dunk off Kris Dunn's steal with 5:22 left to give the Whalers a 47-42 lead.
New London forced 16 turnovers in the second half (two in the first half) using a lineup of Dunn, Porter, Henton, Khaleed Fields and Sam Miranda.
The Crusaders closed to within 47-45 with 3:07 left before New London used a 6-0 run, keyed by forcing three turnovers on consecutive possessions.
"This was about matchups," New London coach Craig Parker said, explaining why he removed posts Malcolm Simmons and Voghens Larrieux. "We had to get stops. Each game presents different scenarios."
Porter spent the second half guarding Holy Cross senior Trevon Perry, who had a game-high five blocks and had 13 points. John Egan, who found himself yawningly open most of the game because of defensive lapses, led Holy Cross with 18.
"Keith guarded a very good player," Parker said, "and did a great job."
Dunn led New London with 23 points in his last official act at Conway Gym. And while Dunn was not happy with himself, his ability to disrupt Holy Cross' offense by occupying passing lanes led to several turnovers.
"I have to be a better leader," Dunn said. "I should have shot less."
Still, though, the Whalers sent their fans home happy. They rewarded New London with the best atmosphere of the season at Conway Gym.
"Our ultimate goal is the state championship," Henton said. "But at the same time, you can't bring these days back."