New London comes around in second half to beat Ledyard and repeat as ECC Div. I champions
Mohegan — Nalyce Dudley was the clear Most Outstanding Player of the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I tournament a year ago, dominating — 81 points in three games — as the New London High School girls’ basketball team owned the spotlight at Mohegan Sun Arena.
And then Tuesday, the top-seeded Whalers again earned the title, their second straight, with a 65-39 victory over No. 3 Ledyard.
Only Dudley, the future Division I player at Sacred Heart University and the Most Outstanding Player once again, had something even better.
Dudley had her sister Nyarah, a freshman, to share the Whalers’ duties. And sophomore Serenity Lancaster. And New London’s Ky-Ani Allgood. And Italia Salls. And Joy Schneider. And Olivia Crane-Benjamin.
A true Whalers team effort.
Dudley finished with 19 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and five steals. Lancaster had 23 points, 14 rebounds, three assists and four blocked shots.
Nyarah Dudley had nine points, including back-to-back baskets in the fourth quarter, one a 3-pointer, to help cement the victory for the Whalers. Allgood had 10 rebounds.
“We were balanced all across the board tonight,” New London coach Tammy Millsaps said. “We were balanced, not only scoring. We were balanced in just our overall effort, if that makes sense.
“Just overall effort. We just exploded in the second half.”
New London (17-6) trailed 13-12 after one quarter and 25-21 at halftime before starting the second half with a 12-0 run, capped by a three-point play from Nalyce Dudley that put the Whalers ahead 33-25. Dudley had just five points at halftime, held scoreless in the second quarter, in which she picked up a pair of offensive fouls in rapid succession.
“As a leader, you really just had to, like, take over,” said Dudley of her team’s second-half charge to wrest control. “I told myself the first half I was just rushing, I need to just really settle in. And I was like, ‘All right, the second half is coming around.’ I was, like, this happened, but get my team more involved and our defense is what really gets us going.
“And once I got more of my teammates involved, that got me more hyped up. Then we just sparked.”
Lancaster and Salls made the All-Tournament team along with Dudley and Ledyard’s Kiki Kirvan and Adrianna Hardison, announced following the game that was played before 1,616 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena — with the signage from the upcoming Big East women’s basketball tournament already decorating the floor.
New London won last year’s ECC Division I tournament title with a 66-55 victory over Bacon Academy.
Ledyard (13-10) was vying for its first ECC tournament title, just a few months after starting the season 0-5. Hardison had 13 points for the Colonels, Kirvan 12 and Monet Augmon 10.
Ledyard took a five-point lead on a jump shot by Kirvan to make it 17-12 in the second.
That’s when New London’s Lancaster kicked her game into high gear, scoring nine straight points for the Whalers, first tying the game at 19-19 and then, following a 3-pointer by Ledyard’s Hardison, pulling the Whalers within 22-21.
Augmon scored the final points of the half with 1:13 remaining, making a driving layup and hitting the ensuing free throw for a three-point play. Kirvan and Hardison each had eight points in the half for Ledyard.
Lancaster’s nine led New London, with the 6-foot-1 sophomore the only player to score for the Whalers in the second quarter.
When the second half began, Lancaster picked up where she left off, converting an offensive rebound and hitting a short hook shot from the right side of the basket in the midst of a 12-0 run to start the third quarter.
Lancaster’s hook shot gave New London a 27-25 lead with 5:51 to play in the third and Salls followed with her second 3-pointer of the game for a 30-25 lead that prompted a Ledyard timeout.
The Whalers outscored Ledyard 16-8 in the third quarter to take a 37-33 lead, although Ledyard scored the final four points of the quarter on a pair of free throws by Hardison and a layup by Kirvan.
“We made some adjustments because they were slowing us down a little bit,” New London’s Millsaps said of the second half. “Once we got out in the second half, our key was our defense.
“We got in the passing lanes, got a couple easy layups and when you get some easy layups, your confidence builds.”
Ledyard coach Mike Morgan, meanwhile, continued to build a program predicated on resilience. The Colonels were vying for their first ECC Division I tournament title in Morgan’s fifth season, with just two seniors in Augmon and Kirvan, who were 5-15 as freshmen and now playing at Mohegan Sun.
“I’m not disappointed. I feel like we got away from our game plan in the second half,” Morgan said. “After that it just came to a point they started dominating on the boards. We wanted to stop them from getting second and third chances and in the second half it didn’t work in our favor. Now we’re trying to rush to get back all the points we lost.
“I’m super proud of my girls, to be honest with you. Going forward if we can play that way and be coachable ... I don’t think this is the end of us.”