CJ Root brings the defense as Raiders beat Stratford 72-47 to move on in the Division III States.
TORRINGTON: CJ Root was a man on a mission.
After watching his team get beat on back door cuts consistently during the first half of the Raiders Division III matchup against visiting Stratford, Root knew he had to pick up the intensity on the defensive end of the court.
Because of his relentless pestering of the Red Devils ball handlers, Root and the Raiders held the visitors to just six third quarter points in route to an impressive 72-47 win that propels them into the quarterfinals at home next Monday when they host West Haven, who got past Wilcox Tech by a 68-63 final on Thursday night.
“We talked about things at halftime,” Root said. “We were getting beat constantly on back doors and screens, so we had to get locked in and deflect every pass.”
Root’s efforts awakened his team and the Connie Donahue Gymnasium to a level that made it very hard for Stratford to continue what had worked so well for them in the first 16-minutes.
A 14-0 run, fueled by that relentless defensive effort, took a tight game at 33-33 and launched the home team into a double-digit lead at 45-35.
Stratford was held scoreless for nearly five minutes after taking their last lead at 33-31 and along with that new-found intensity, a defensive switch helped as well.
“We had switched from man-to-man to zone on an inbound play and saw their play against it wasn’t good,” head coach Eric Gamari said. “So, we kept it on for a couple of possessions and never went back.”
Gone were the easy buckets that came after a nice rotation of passes by the Red Devils who were never able to get their offensive rhythm back against the zone.
Everyone had a hand in the game changing run as Root had a pair of buckets, one on a steal while Kevin Dixon (team high 20 points) scored on back to back buckets, including one off an offensive rebound as Torrington began to dominate on both ends.
Stratford’s game was a deliberate one while the Raiders love to run, and it was effective in the first half as they were able to limit the Torrington running chances by taking time on each offensive set.
The Raiders struggled in the second quarter after being up 20-17 after one quarter, not scoring a field goal until the 3:00 minute mark and were held to just nine points in the frame, sending the teams to the locker room tied at 29.
This time of the year, the one consistent is understanding that records don’t matter and after 16 minutes, this was a toss-up game.
Michael August (game high 23 points), scored 13 of those in the first half for the Red Devils while jack Ryan added 11 on the night.
As effective as the deliberate offense was against the man, it was equally ineffective against the zone in the second half when the home team outscored the visitors by a 43-18 margin to win going away.
The Connie was rocking in the fourth quarter when Joel Villanueva (19 points, 3, 3-pointers) and Root exchanged assists on three pointers that gave Torrington a 21-point lead at 58-37.
Dixon was a force for the home team, utilizing a strong inside game that translated well against the visitors.
The senior center is looking forward to one more home game.
“It’s going to be even better than tonight,” Dixon said of the energy in the gym,” I can’t wait.”
But it all come back to Root, who was the difference maker on night his team needed his senior leadership.
“I thought he was the guy who calmed us,” Gamari said. “It’s frustrating for the other team to play against a guy where every pass is being deflected. He blocked a Mike August three in the corner and just played great.”
So, the Connie Donahue will be the place to be on Monday night as the Raiders look to continue what has been a memorable season for the program.
It’s fun feeling the old gym throw out the serious energy it did on Thursday night with a bunch of basketball alumni on hand to take it all in.
West Haven, according to Gamari, is a team that loves to run so we might be in for a track meet which suits the hard-running Raiders just fine.
The Blue Devils come in ranked #13 while the Raiders sit at # 5.
Top seed Wamogo got beaten by Shelton, 69-60.
Rick Wilson was on hand and has the story for us.
Division III Second Round
Torrington 72, Stratford 47
Stratford 17 12 6 12 47
Torrington 20 9 19 24 72
Stratford (47): Zachary Fedak 3-0-8, Jack Ryan 4-2-11, Michael August 8-4-23, Joseph August 1-0-2, John Bike 0-1-1, Preston Williams 1-0-2: Totals: 17-7-47
Torrington (72): Dontae Thomas 4-2-11, Nick Balducci 0-0-0, Joel Villanueva 7-2-19, CJ Root 4-0-10, Kevin Dixon 10-0-20, Adam Vanotti 1-0-2, Brian Ballesteros 0-0-0, Justin Mattielo 0-0-0. Totals: 30-5-72
3-pointers: Stratford (6) Fedak 2, Ryan, M. August 3. Torrington (7) Thomas, Villanueva 3, Root 2
Records: Stratford 13-8, Torrington 18-6
Next up: Torrington hosts West Haven on Monday night, March 11, 2019 in the Quarterfinals