NFA beats New London to improve to 19-0
Norwich — Norwich Free Academy keeps stringing together wins, 19 straight now after Tuesday night's 69-51 victory over New London to finish its Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I boys' basketball schedule unbeaten.
One more to finish the regular season 20-0.
Then still what NFA coach Chris Guisti calls the "money games" after that.
"They just like playing with each other," Guisti said, asked what has allowed his team, ranked fourth in the GameTimeCT Top 10 poll, to be successful time and again. "That takes you to the next level. I've coached teams before and as an assistant coach that had just as much talent that didn't get as cohesive."
So, cohesiveness ...
... and Mason Jackson.
Jackson finished with 30-or-more points for the second time in three games, totaling 32 over New London. The 6-foot-5 junior guard scored 34 on Feb. 13 in a victory over Hall.
On Tuesday, Jackson did a little of everything, even making Guisti cringe a little every time he tried to dunk — "he knows that drives me crazy," Guisti said.
But with time in the game growing short and New London getting closer, pulling to within 11 when Syncere Gray dribbled the length of the court and skied over a defender who was attempting to take a charge — that made it 55-44 — Jackson was all seriousness.
He scored off a jump stop, then tipped a ball in after he originally missed a 3-pointer, crashing the boards. Those two baskets made it 59-46. Then, after New London's Rhodia Perry hit a 3-pointer to pull the Whalers within 59-49, Jackson scored on the front end of a fast break and next time down the floor added a putback for a 63-49 advantage.
Jackson finished by going 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the final minute.
"He should be getting better every year, I hope so," Guisti said of Jackson, who has been a force for the Wildcats since his freshman season. "But as many times as we have practice hours, it comes down to, 'Does the kid want to get better?'
"Mason takes seriously his moments on the court. ... For the most part, he's very efficient. Just a sweet kid. Super-coachable, super-friendly to everyone on campus."
"We have a really good team because we're brothers," Jackson said. "We love each other."
Guisti challenges each of his players to get 10 rebounds per game.
"First and foremost, we knew going in rebounding was going to be an area of concern," said Guisti, who has a guard-laden team. "Some of our smaller guys have been some of our better rebounders."
Guisti wants his team to remain focused on the money games, though.
The Wildcats finish the regular season Monday at home against Xavier, a shot to go 20-0.
They'll play an ECC quarterfinal game next Thursday as the postseason commences.
"Unfortunately we haven't won anything yet," Guisti said. "We know we have an opportunity to do something special. We still have to do that."
Also Tuesday, Jared Martin had 17 points and Nolan Molkenthin 10.
Tayeshawn Cunningham-Pemberton had 25 points for New London (8-11).
NFA started the game with a 9-0 lead on 3-pointers by Molkenthin, Martin and a three-point play by Jackson. Molkenthin hit another 3 to close the quarter with the Wildcats leading 22-11. NFA led 37-22 at halftime and made it a 20-point margin at 42-22 on a 3-pointer by Martin.
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