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New London - The meeting-room door was closed for a long time following New London's 52-36 victory over Montville in the first round of the Class M state girls' basketball tournament Monday.
"We talked about defense; we have to pick everything up and come out with intensity," New London sophomore Charee Osborne said. "We can't lay down."
After falling in Friday night's Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament championship game to Norwich Free Academy, New London team responded with a nine-point deficit in the opening minutes against ECC Medium Division rival Montville before kicking into high gear.
Montville, playing without all-league guard Jamie Hill due to a stress fracture, got 18 points and 10 blocked shots from Cassidy Bundy, who had eight of the Indians' points as they took an 11-2 lead five minutes into the game.
"You would think after Friday we would come out with more fire. I wasn't happy with our overall effort," New London coach Kerrianne Dugan said.
Freshman India Pagan led the Whalers with 17 points, however, and Deanna McCarvell added 14, including three 3-point field goals in the second quarter and four 3s overall. Osborne, who had 11 points, scored a buzzer-beater at the end of the first quarter to pull the Whalers within two at 13-11.
The teams traded the lead seven times in the second quarter before McCarvell's third 3-pointer gave New London the lead for good with 2 minutes, 37 seconds remaining in the half.
The fifth-seeded Whalers (20-4), two years removed from finishing 2-18, will take on No. 12 Coginchaug in the second round of the tournament at 7 p.m. Thursday in New London. No. 28 Montville finished the season at 11-12.
"We knew they were a good team. Last time we played them, we let them jump all over us," Montville coach Derek Wainwright said of his team's effort to start Monday night, with the Indians trailing just 25-24 at halftime. "We played like a team today. We distributed the ball.
"We challenged Cassidy to be more aggressive offensively and aggressive on defense, as well. They manhandled us a little bit the last time."
Osborne said it took the Whalers some time to rebuild their confidence after Friday night's 53-45 loss to top-seeded NFA. New London was hoping to avenge a loss earlier in the season to the Wildcats, one of the only two teams in the state to which the Whalers have lost.
"It was hard. It hurt," Osborne said of the loss. "... (Against Montville), we just had to keep pushing and move on to the next play. We needed to get back into the swing of things and we did. We wanted it."
Pagan started the second half with a basket inside and Osborne followed by converting an offensive rebound. That began a 14-2 run for the Whalers, who allowed only two free throws during that time. New London didn't allow Montville to score for the first 5:49 of the half, in fact, when Bundy connected on a 3-pointer.
The Whalers built their lead to 13 during that time and led 41-32 after three quarters, stretching that back to 43-32 when Osborne led off the final period with another basket on an offensive rebound.
Said Dugan of the next couple of days leading up to the Coginchaug game: "We've got to get back to being sharp. We need to be as sharp as possible."