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Ledyard — Ledyard High School's average margin of victory this season, 36.3 points per game, illustrates the Colonels' inexperience with the urgency of desperate, late-game situations.
Even Saturday night, Ledyard appeared ready to turn an 11-point lead into something greater in the fourth period.
"I started to think Ledyard was going to pull away," Hartford Public coach Kurt Reis said later.
Except that Reis' team, smarting from a loss at Southington Friday night and tiring from its third game in three nights, delivered Ledyard a late-game lesson.
The Owls stormed back from a 57-46 deficit and edged the Colonels, 63-62, before a full house at Standish Gym. Hartford Public (14-4) snapped Ledyard's 14-game win streak.
"The key for us was denying (Ledyard senior Thomas) Whipple the ball," Reis said. "He must have had, by our count, seven, eight or nine assists. We needed to take him out and make someone else be the playmaker."
Nobody else assumed the responsibility.
Whipple spent most of the night facilitating the offense, mostly giving the ball to forward Darnay Gray, who finished with 31 points. The final six minutes, though, turned into dizzying intervals of turnovers, quick shots, bad shots and missed free throws.
"We've got to get tougher," Ledyard coach Dave Cornish said. "Everybody looks at Mugsy (Whipple), Mugsy, Mugsy. Mugsy's not the point guard. But we'll fix it."
Hartford Public's Avaughn Brown hit a 3-pointer with 1:52 remaining to tie the game at 59. Daylon Ore's basket gave the Owls a 61-59 lead before Ledyard's Chris Gill made two free throws with 30 seconds left to tie it.
Richard Jernigan's lone basket of the night - a layup with 15 seconds left - gave the Owls a 63-61 lead.
Jaquantee Reels made one of two free throws with eight seconds left for Ledyard. After he missed the second, Ledyard retained possession and ran an out-of-bounds play that gave Gill and Gray layup attempts in the closing seconds.
They both missed.
"A lot people say there are lessons in losing. I don't believe that one bit," Cornish said. "I don't know what lesson losing teaches. I really don't."
Eric Sanchez led the Owls with 17 points (five 3-pointers) while Ore had 15 and Brown had 14.
Whipple finished with 13 for the Colonels (18-2) whose regular season is complete.
Gray didn't touch the ball much in the fourth period despite dominating most of the game.
"He's big, strong and gets off the floor well," Reis said of Gray. "But we were giving him a lot of layups."
Cornish was hoping for one more.
"He's got to do a better job of getting position," he said, "and we've got to do a better job getting Darnay the ball."