Ledyard boys finish strong to beat Kennedy 70-60

Ledyard's River Thomas (1) sprints down the court after stealing the ball from Kennedy's Tyreek Middleton during the second quarter of Thursday's Class L second-round game. The Colonels advanced to the quarterfinals with a 70-60 victory.
Ledyard's River Thomas (1) sprints down the court after stealing the ball from Kennedy's Tyreek Middleton during the second quarter of Thursday's Class L second-round game. The Colonels advanced to the quarterfinals with a 70-60 victory. Tim Cook/ The Day

Ledyard - With things heating up in intensity down the stretch, Ledyard coach Dave Cornish didn't want to use his final timeout unless he had to.

That's just about when the game officials told both coaches to call their teams over and calm them down, exactly what Cornish wanted.

"Coach told us to stay in the game, we had to keep our heads in the game," Ledyard sophomore DeAnte Bruton said. "Coach told me, 'Don't talk back, just keep going. Keep playing hard.'"

In the end, the sixth-seeded Ledyard High School boys' basketball team played with its share of poise, losing a double-digit lead then getting it back for a 70-60 victory over No. 11 Kennedy in the second round of the Class LL state tournament.

In the second game of a girls' and boys' state tournament doubleheader at Standish Gymnasium, Ledyard got 20 points from Bruton, 16 from Phyllip Thomas, 14 from Khary Childs and 10 from Darnay Gray to advance to the quarterfinals Monday at No. 3 Crosby in Waterbury.

Ledyard (20-4) was ahead 18-8 after a quarter and 34-24 at halftime, partly thanks to the Colonels' fullcourt pressure, according to Cornish. Without the pressure after halftime, with Cornish trying to conserve on fouls, Kennedy came back to take the lead with 3 minutes, 2 seconds left in the third quarter on a basket by Jairo Suarez.

If there's one person Cornish wanted to remain fired up, it was Gray, however. Cornish's scouting report revealed that Kennedy liked to chirp at opposing players a great deal. When it was directed at Gray, Cornish knew to give his big guy, Ledyard's 6-foot-3 senior center, the ball.

Gray scored back-to-back three-point plays in the third quarter to give Ledyard a 46-43 lead. "They were talking to Darnay," Cornish said. "We went right inside to him. Give him the ball. Nobody can stop him in that situation. That's what he did."

Ledyard took the lead for good on a floater by Bruton with 6:08 to play, leading 50-48, the middle of a 12-5 run the Colonels' used to start the fourth quarter.

Kennedy pulled within five at 59-54, but gave up a three-point play to Childs and with 2:39 to play Kennedy's Daquan Bowes picked up his fourth foul and his fifth on a technical for protesting the previous call.

Childs made one free throw and Bruton two, pushing the lead to nine.

Ledyard, in fact, scored six straight times in the final four minutes on plays involving free throws. The Colonels finished 18-for-35 from the line.

"They just came out harder than we did (in the second half)," Childs said. "We just had to keep playing the game the way we were. ... We have a mission. We're trying to get to (the state finals at) Mohegan. The last two years we've been trying to get to Mohegan."

Cornish told his players exactly what was on the line in the final moments. "This could be your last game as seniors on this floor," said Cornish, complimenting the way the seniors flourished, including Dom Benson, Childs and Gray.

Cornish said getting to the finals at the Mohegan Sun is something his team talks about often, noting that the Colonels are only two games away from that goal.

"Two more. To get those two more, we have to play out of our minds, but these kids are capable of doing that," Cornish said. "We purposely built a tough schedule during the regular season and we're playing well right now, two games in a row."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

Ledyard's Phyllip Thomas crashes against the bleachers Thursday during the fourth quarter as Ledyard faced Kennedy of Waterbury in the CIAC Class LL state boys basketball tournament at Ledyard High School. Ledyard won, 70-60, advancing to the CIAC Class LL quarterfinals.
Ledyard's Phyllip Thomas crashes against the bleachers Thursday during the fourth quarter as Ledyard faced Kennedy of Waterbury in the CIAC Class LL state boys basketball tournament at Ledyard High School. Ledyard won, 70-60, advancing to the CIAC Class LL quarterfinals. Tim Cook/The Day
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