Fitch boys' hoop gets defensive to beat New London
Groton — Fitch boys’ basketball coach Charlie Silvan decided to switch up defenses up late in Thursday night’s game in hopes to “strangle” the middle of the floor.
“Strangle” is a good way to describe the Falcons’ Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I quarterfinal against New London.
Fitch and New London played frantic and frenetic for most of the game, resulting in a number of turnovers and many more missed baskets.
Fitch forced some turnovers late to edge the Whalers 43-39 in a defensive struggle that was often as appealing as a migraine.
It was the second-lowest score of the season for both teams.
“At this point of the season, it doesn’t really matter,” Falcons senior Ajia Brown said with a smile regarding the game being as appealing as a rock fight. “It’s all about the score. We won it, so I’m happy with that.”
The second-seeded Falcons (18-3) will play No. 3 Ledyard (12-8) at 4 p.m. in Saturday’s semifinals at Waterford.
Ledyard beat No. 6 Stonington 77-70 in its quarterfinal.
Fitch beat the Colonels twice during the regular season, 51-44 (Jan. 7) and 56-48 (Feb. 6).
Brown scored a game-high 20 with eight rebounds and five steals for the Falcons. Yaniel Hernandez added 10 points and three steals and Adriel Atad had seven points and nine assists.
Derek Raymond had 12 points and eight rebounds for New London (8-13) and Syncere Gray had eight points and five rebounds.
It was the third time Fitch beat the Whalers. It won last Friday 55-38.
Brown turned a Kyhol Kershaw steal into a layup and followed with a layup for a three-point play to give the Falcons their largest lead, 23-14 with 2:34 left in the first half.
New London outscored Fitch in the third quarter 13-4. Gray made two 3-pointers and Rhodia Perry another as the Whalers took a 33-32 lead into the fourth.
Fitch turned up the defensive heat in the fourth. Another Kershaw steal led to a Brown layup that cut the Falcons’ deficit to 35-34 with 5:42 remaining in the game.
Brown put back his own miss to put Fitch ahead to stay 36-35 with 4:48 left. The Falcons had gotten possession thanks to a Yahbriel Roman steal.
“We knew if we threw some pressure at them that they would start getting out of character a little bit,” Brown said. “We tried to speed them up and get some turnovers.
“We’re mostly doing defense (at practice). We’ll run through the offenses a few times, but it’s defense, defense, defense. We’ve got a lot of quick guards and a lot of guys who like to work hard and get buckets.”
New London refused to go away. Perry’s steal led to a Davon Benjamin layup, followed by a Gray steal for a Raymond layup that cut Fitch’s lead to 40-39 with 1:40 remaining.
The Whalers got the ball back with 1:11 left after the Falcons traveled.
Roman forced a steal with under a minute left with New London protesting that he fouled.
Regardless, Brown cut toward the basket moments later and turned a pass from above the arc by Seamus Graves into a layup and was fouled. Brown made his free throw to account for the game’s final points with 32.6 seconds left.
“The defensive changes, I think, maybe caught (New London) off guard,” Silvan said. “We were fortunate enough to capitalize and get some opportunistic bounces. We cashed in a few for layups.
“New London kept fighting. That’s a tough group.”
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