St. Bernard takes lead in ECC D-III with easy win over Stonington

Montville — There are several big, red banners adorning the walls inside St. Bernard's gymnasium, many a tribute to the old days, when the Saints hung them routinely.

Maybe that's what added to the significance of Tuesday night: big crowd in the old barn to watch a game for first place in Division III of the Eastern Connecticut Conference, a game that could likely determine which teams hangs a division title banner for 2019.

Advantage: Sr. Bernard.

The Saints assumed sole possession of the lead in the division by throwing Stonington down a flight of stairs, a decisive 54-35 win that left the sons of Mark Jones 6-3 overall and 3-0 in the division. Long way to go? Sure. But first place always beats the alternatives.

Stonington, which had lost but once all year — and to nobody in Connecticut — fell to 7-2, 2-1.

"I wouldn't say this game was bigger than any of the others. I know it's a cliché, but the next game on the schedule is the biggest game of the year," Jones said. "But at the same time, you've got to impose your will on people. That's what we teach. We want to build good habits for the end of the season."

The Saints are the two-time defending ECC Division II tournament champs. They will play Stonington again in the regular season (Feb. 15 at Stonington) and perhaps again not only in the ECC tournament, but the Division IV state tournament as well.

"We've been starting games fast, but tonight we just didn't," Stonington coach John Luzzi said. "Especially defensively."

St. Bernard's 7-0 run at the end of the first period turned a 12-10 game into 19-10 and the Bears never recovered.

"They were guarding us 23 feet from the basket," Luzzi said. "If we can't go by them, that's on us. It was a really physical game and it was allowed to happen. But I give St. Bernard a ton of credit. They played harder than we did."

JoJo Beltran led the Saints with 19 points, while a number of other players contributed, including center Cam Beaudet, who had seven points, seven rebounds and one notable putback that had Jones pumping his fist up and down the bench.

"There were times when Cam wasn't getting a lot of minutes, but he kept working," Jones said. "He's helping us a lot."

Zach Scott led the Bears with 10. Stonington's only other loss was a one-pointer to South Kingstown, R.I.

"We learned some lessons tonight," Luzzi said. "We'll get this fixed."

m.dimauro@theday.com

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