Waterford boys beat New Britain for second straight state basketball title

Mohegan — At times this season, Waterford simply morphed into its surroundings like chameleons.

Or shape-shifters.

Or like a certain team that plays in Foxborough, Mass., able to adapt into whatever style they need to play to get a win.

An opponent wants to press the Lancers? Cool. They’ve got enough playmakers to to wreck a press.

An opponent wants to pack the lane? Cool. They'll just rain threes.

The Lancers rolled with whatever New Britain threw at them during Sunday night’s CIAC Division II boys' basketball final, and they rolled their way to another state title before a rocking crowd of 6,878 at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Waterford 63, New Britain 56.

Back-to-back state champions.

Adapt and survive. And thrive.

“Oh, my God — we have five guys that can score pretty much any way possible,” Lancers senior Liam Spellman said. “We can all shoot the three. We can all dribble. We’re one unit, not a group of individuals, and we just play our hearts out.

“It’s tough for other teams to guard us.”

Top-seeded Waterford finished 26-1. the program has won three state titles, all since 2012. It’s also the first Eastern Connecticut Conference team to win consecutive state titles since New London won Division III in 2004 and Division II in 2005.

“That was the element of our team that was the most dangerous all year — that all five guys in the lineup were dangerous,” Lancers head coach Bill Bassett said. “I’ve coached teams before where there might be one-or-two guys who are, like, good role players, so they’re going to set screens. They’re only going to rebound.

“These guys, everyone of them plays not only a role, but they play a dangerous role.”

The Lancers beat sixth-seeded New Britain inside. They had an advantage in points in the paint (34-24) and second-chance points (18-7).

“Too many layups,” New Britain head coach Kurt Reis said. “The layups killed us.”

Junior Ryan O’Connell did the most damage by the rim for Waterford with 14 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.

The Hurricanes often tried to press the Lancers, which made senior Kenny Hill the perfect point guard for the situation. He knew when to drive the lane and shoot (8-of-13 for 19 points). He knew when to pass it. He also had five rebounds.

“Kenny Hill has brought a lot of composure (to the team),” Bassett said. “He has brought a lot of versatility to the point guard position, and he’s also a big-game player.”

Reis said, “We were getting beat off the dribble. … The kid Hill is pretty shifty with the rock. He was great tonight.”

Senior JJ Brennan had 16 points and five rebounds, junior Payton Sutman had nine points and six rebounds, and Spellman had eight rebounds for the Lancers. The team shot 48.9 percent (23-of-47).

Seniors Maurice Turner (19 points) and Dashawn Clark (15 points) led New Britain (20-7).

“They put the buzz back in basketball in the city,” Reis said of his senior class. “It was down for a couple of years (Reis took over the program last season). They bought in. The kids put a lot of time and effort in.”

The two-day tournament drew 21,327 for the nine games, a record attendance since the CIAC moved its championship games to Mohegan Sun.

Waterford took the lead for good in the second quarter thanks to O’Connell. He grabbed an offensive rebound off of Brennan’s missed layup, missed two shots but grabbed the offensive rebound both times, and scored on his third try for a three-point play. His free throw gave the Lancers an 18-15 lead with 6 minutes, 23 seconds left in the first half.

Spellman’s 3-pointer and a jumper by Sutman gave Waterford its largest lead, 57-45, with 2:51 remaining in the game.

Hurricanes senior Isaiah Jenkins made the front end of a one-and-one to cut the Lancers lead to 59-52 with 1:20 left.

Turner missed a three on New Britain’s next possession. Sutman got the rebound, threw it up ahead to Hill, who passed it to O’Connell for a thunderous dunk in transition. It set off the Waterford crowd and gave the Lancers a 61-52 edge with 1:01 to for another state title.

“When Oak dunked that, it was like, we got this game now,” Spellman laughed.

Waterford closed it out from there.

“Back-to-back, there’s nothing better than that,” Spellman said. “There’s no real words to describe it. We won. I’m so happy right now. I’m so filled with joy.”

Bassett said, “Five guys as one, and that’s how we’ve been playing basketball in Waterford for a long time, and I’d like to keep it that way for us as long as we can.

“Everyone says they love the way we pass. They love the way we play. Everybody is open.”

n.griffen@theday.com

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