Montville - The pace the last time these teams played, well, didn't even really qualify as a pace. New London didn't break 30 that day. Woodstock Academy won the Eastern Connecticut Conference Large Division.
Then came the second half Wednesday night, when the New London High School boys' basketball team reinvented the word pace in the ECC tournament semifinals at St. Bernard.
"We played New London defense in the second half … first time all year," an emotional New London coach Craig Parker said. "At halftime, I thought Woodstock might have been laughing at us after they made that (length-of-the-court) 3-pointer. I told our kids, 'We're just going to leave it on the floor. The difference was our pressure."
"New London," Woodstock coach Greg Smith said, "has got another gear that most teams don't have."
Third-seeded New London, down by as many as 13 in the first half and 10 at halftime following the buzzer-beating 3 by Tristan Welch, came back to beat No. 2 Woodstock 78-76 in overtime, getting 30 points from Keith Porter and 27 from 5-foot-9 sophomore DeAnte Bruton to avenge a pair of earlier defeats to the Centaurs.
New London, in the finals for the 10th straight year after a great deal of pacing from Parker and a few fist pumps, will face either No. 1 Ledyard or No. 5 Norwich Free Academy in the championship game at 7 p.m. Friday at St. Bernard.
The second semifinal was postponed Wednesday because of slippery conditions on the court at St. Bernard. The floor was wet-mopped between games, which did not give it enough time to dry with the humid conditions inside the packed gym.
That game will be played over in its entirety at 5 p.m. today at St. Bernard, with free admission.
For New London, which trailed 38-28 at halftime, Bruton scored 14 points in the third quarter as the Whalers (15-7) climbed back in the game, its fullcourt in-your-face defense serving as a point of frustration for Woodstock (19-3).
Finally, in overtime, it was New London's De'Vonta Robinson who scored the game-winning basket with 14 seconds remaining, with Bruton having fouled out and Porter on the sidelines suffering through leg cramps which rendered him nearly unable to walk up the stairs to the locker room afterward.
Woodstock's Ian Converse tied the game at 76 with 40 seconds left.
Collin Sawyer had the initial attempt at a game-winning shot for New London, firing from the right baseline. Robinson swooped in for the rebound and scored with an up-and-under.
Woodstock's Welch missed his team's final shot.
In the teams' last game, Jan. 25 at Woodstock, the Centaurs beat New London 32-28.
"They made us play their game," Woodstock's Smith said. "That's what we just talked about, we can never let another team play their game. And we're not very good at their game.
"It doesn't matter if (the Whalers) get it done on Jan. 25 or whenever it was.
It matters when they get it done at the end of February."
Point guard Chris Lowry, who didn't play in the last game due to injury, led Woodstock with 19 points, followed by 17 each from Welch and 6-foot-5 Sullivan Gardner.
After New London got off to a 7-2 lead, Woodstock scored the next 17 points to end the first quarter on a variety of layups by the 6-foot-5 pair of Gardner and Converse and a 3-point barrage that included four by Welch.
Bruton had 10 points in the first half to lead New London, though, and was just getting started.
Bruton hit his fourth 3-pointer of the third quarter at the 2:46 mark to pull New London within 45-44. He left the game a few seconds later after picking up his fourth foul, but that's when Porter hit his stride.
Porter scored nine in the fourth quarter, including the tying basket with four seconds left to force overtime, then as overtime began scored New London's first seven points, including a spectacular fast-break dunk.
"DeAnte Bruton came up huge. ... (Porter) rebounds for us, he scores," Parker said. "It is a great accomplishment (for us)."