Saints win ECC Division I title with 70-61 win over Whalers
Montville — Tyson Wheeler was recalling his freshman season at St. Bernard.
“We played all those tough teams and lost every single one of them,” said Wheeler, now a senior. “They were close games, competitive, but we lost all of them.
“The COVID year helped us get used to playing them all the time. I’d say last year and this year, we really took charge in playing the tougher teams and beating them, trying to be the best team in the league.”
On Friday, St. Bernard became the best boys’ basketball team in the Eastern Connecticut Conference — in the league’s Division I, at least, which annually features the greatest amount of Goliaths. The Saints clinched the Division I title, defending their home court with a 70-61 victory over New London.
New London (13-3, 3-2) won nine straight headed into the matchup, not losing a game since its previous game against St. Bernard on Jan. 6. And the Whalers led by six early in the game.
Amare Marshall, the versatile 6-foot-6 sophomore, had 30 points and eight rebounds to lift St. Bernard (13-2, 5-0), 17 points in the first half including two 3-point field goals. Marshall missed time in the first quarter, leaving the court to change his uniform jersey, which had blood on it. He returned wearing No. 34 and only having scored one point to that juncture.
“We were calling him Paul Pierce (after the former Celtics great, also No. 34),” Wheeler said of Marshall. “It was fun for him. He’s a phenomenal player. He doesn’t even know his ceiling. He’s quiet, a quiet killer.
“He does all the dirty work. If you have Amare scoring 30, it’s going to be tough to beat us.”
Alexander Johnson added 11 points for St. Bernard, with Amyre Gray and Wheeler each scoring eight. SaVahn Warren had 24 points for New London, Devan Williams 17 and Xavier Goode 16.
It was the ninth straight win for the Saints, who scored the final nine points of the second quarter to take a 39-31 lead at halftime.
With the score tied 16-16 after one quarter, the second period featured 11 lead changes — on nearly every basket. New London grabbed a 31-30 edge when Williams scored on a fast break.
Gray scored to give St. Bernard the lead back at 32-31 and Wheeler scored five straight points, with a fast break basket followed by a 3-pointer as the Saints led 37-31.
The Saints were fouled as time expired in the half. The referees placed six-tenths of a second back on the clock, however, enough for Gray to inbound the ball to Ryan Outlow for one final score.
Although there would be no more lead changes in the second half, New London did score the first seven points of the third quarter, including a 3 by Goode, to pull within 39-38. That run was stopped by four straight points from Outlow.
St. Bernard led 45-44 before scoring eight straight points, led off by a shot from Gray which was the result of an offensive rebound by Marshall.
The Saints extended the lead to 53-45 at the end of three quarters and pushed their advantage to as many as 13 in the fourth quarter.
“It’s a good testament to (seniors) Cedrick (Similien), Ryan and Tyson, Cerick and Tyson just because they’ve been here a little longer, but Ryan’s been a good addition to what we’re doing,” St. Bernard coach Mark Jones said. “Cedrick and Tyson have just been building this program up. I couldn’t be happier for them to win. I couldn’t be prouder of this guys.”
“It’s always competitive with New London, you know, great team, great coaching staff, a lot of great players,” Wheeler said.
New London was playing without sophomore guard Da’Shaun Phillips, who coach Craig Parker said wasn’t feeling well.
Parker said it’s his hope the teams will see each other again in the upcoming ECC Division I tournament.
“I just thought it was a good high school game,” Parker said. “They made a few more plays than we did. A few plays go our way, we could win. ... We have some talent, we play hard, we hope we can keep this going. We’re in a good spot.”