East Lyme finishes strong and gives Waterford its first loss 64-60
Waterford — A few things that the East Lyme boys’ basketball team is not — the biggest, the fastest or the flashiest.
The Vikings have got the resiliency part of their game down, though.
East Lyme rallied late and closed strong against previously unbeaten Waterford for a 64-60 win on Thursday night before a standing room only crowd of 1,500 which squeezed into the Francis X. Sweeney Field House.
“We have these games every game,” East Lyme’s Dev Ostrowski said. “New London, (Class M champion) Brookfield, Hand ... every game comes down to the wire. (Waterford) hasn’t had to do that, so they’re not used to it. So we just came up clutch and we just took over.”
The Vikings (7-1) outscored Waterford 15-9 in the game’s final four minutes. That included making all six of their free throws.
“Perseverance, that's really what it was,” East Lyme coach Jeff Bernardi said. “We refused to lose.
“We’re comfortable in dogfights. We’ve been there before.”
The Lancers (9-1) hadn’t been in such situations. They had bludgeoned opponents by an average of 35 points en route to the No. 7 ranking in the GameTimeCT/New Haven Register media state poll.
“We’re playing our schedule,” Waterford coach Bill Bassett said. “The teams we’ve had to play, some of them haven’t been as challenging as I thought they would have been.
“This is the first real punch to the face we’ve had. Ledyard really gave it to us in the first quarter of that game (on Dec. 28). Then we battled back in the second quarter and then we really started to take control in the third on Mikey (Buscetto’s) unconscious shooting performance (for an 84-64 win).”
Ostrowski scored 10 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter for East Lyme and J.R. Gandenberger made five 3-pointers for 15 points.
Buscetto scored a game-high 27 with five assists for Waterford. Omar Rahman added 14 points.
Luke Leonard scored a mere nine for the Vikings, but he made two of the game’s biggest shots when it counted. The second of the two was a floater that put East Lyme ahead for good 58-56 with 2 minutes, 16 seconds left.
East Lyme trailed by two with 3:40 remaining when Gandenberger’s missed shot was tipped back to Leonard above the 3-point line.
Leonard quickly — and coolly — put up a shot and hit to give East Lyme a 52-51 lead. The Vikings never trailed again. He also had nine rebounds.
“He’s 5-8, but he plays like he’s 6-4,” Bernardi said. “He’s the heart and soul of our team. He’s our captain simply because he leads by example. Dev obviously gets the accolades that he deserves, but this team is not 7-1 without Luke Leonard’s leadership, energy and effort.”
Free-throw shooting played a huge part in the game as the Vikings took fewer shots but made more of them. They made 14 of 15 free throws, including 6-of-6 with 1:23 left in the game. Waterford made 12 of 19.
East Lyme’s Brent Simeon made the final two with eight seconds left to account for the final score. They were his only points of the game.
“His two foul shots won us the game right there,” Ostrowski said.
Bassett said: “Free throws have been our Achilles heel all year. … (Simeon) doesn’t (score) the entire game. He comes up and hits two big free throws at the end to ice it. Great job. Good for him.”
East Lyme's win continued the Eastern Connecticut Conference's cannibalization of one another. To wit:
• Waterford beat Ledyard (84-64, Dec. 28).
• New London beat Ledyard (73-55, Jan. 5).
• East Lyme beat New London (72-56, Jan. 9).
• Ledyard beat East Lyme (71-55, Jan. 11).
“Round and round we go,” Bassett said. “It’s good for the league. The ECC, in the state, we’re that conference on the east coast. That’s farm land out there. You go down there in the summertime, get lobster.
“We play each other, it’s on a big stage, and it’s hardfought games. And it’s only going to make all the teams in our conference better, especially come state tournament time.”
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