Torrington boys one win from a trip to Mohegan Sun after 73-58 win over West Haven.
TORRINGTON: It was as simple as understanding how much five upperclassmen didn’t want Monday night to be their last basketball game.
‘This was like another Senior Night,” Torrington head coach Eric Gamari said. “It’s fitting that only the five seniors scored tonight.”
Behind the efforts of those five seniors, Dontae Thomas (18 points), Joel Villanueva (17 points), Tyreek Davis (16 points), Kevin Dixon (14 points) and CJ Root (8 points), the Raiders are a win away from playing under the big lights at Mohegan Sun after disposing of West Haven by a 73-58 final score.
Their next mission?
To take on Amistad on Wednesday at Wilby, a gym that saw them play so well in the Naugatuck Valley League Tournament. The Wolves, ranked # 9, got past Shelton by a 68-59 final on Monday night.
Against the Blue Devils, it took the home team a little time to get going, they didn’t score their first point until the 5:30 mark of the first quarter on a Dontae Thomas floater in the lane but found their footing on a continuation by one player from their last game against Stratford.
Root, who turned that Stratford game on its head last Thursday night with his defense, did the same to spark the Torrington offense with a block and a steal that ignited the ready to rock home crowd while waking up his team.
“He’s a pest on defense,” Gamari said in the most glowing sense of the word.
Villanueva was up next with a three pointer, off a Root steal and a basket with an assist from junior Zach McLaughlin who came off the bench early and gave his head coach some quality minutes.
A Root three pointer and a Thomas jumper gave the Raiders a 17-14 lead after one but something else was becoming apparent.
The Blue Devils were not comfortable with the full out sprint that defines the Torrington offensive approach and it showed.
At 23-18 in the second, West Haven held the ball at half court for over a minute, they were gassed.
If they pressed, the Raiders just ran through it. Dixon found Thomas who found Villanueva for a three pointer in a beautiful sequence, followed by Villanueva returning the favor to Dixon for an easy bucket.
At the break, it was 25-21 in favor of the home team, but you had the felling if some of the easy baskets that were not falling in the first half found net in the second, something good would happen.
Another Root block led to a fast break opportunity for the Raiders in the third and Villanueva found Dixon inside for a bucket and one chance.
The Blue Devils had a defensive game plan that saw them play a box and one on Raider senior Tyreek Davis and in the first half, the Gunnery School bound upperclassmen (who was honored before the game for scoring over 1300 points during his high school career to date) was held to just a pair of free throws.
With the Raiders though, it’s a pick your poison with so many other weapons available, as shown by the four players in double figures.
Davis got loose on the next Torrington possession and completed the second straight conventional three- point play to balloon the lead to 31-23.
West Haven was driving to the basket and getting to the foul line, but their free throw shooting was not good, they missed on six of eight chances in the third quarter and finished 7 for 19 on the night.
Dixon completed an 8-2 run in that key spot in the third quarter to put the lead into double digit territory.
The visitors got back to back baskets from Quannel Straugher to cut the lead back to six, but Root drained a long three-pointer and Dixon finished a strong move inside for a 38-27 lead.
The lead was 19 after three at 54-35 and it was a matter of time before this one was in the books.
West Haven did have one more run in them in the fourth as they went on an 8-0 run behind a pair on three balls from Shea Sheffield and a jumper from Malcolm Duncanson (team high 14) but the Raiders had answers each and every time.
Thomas went on his own 4-0 run with a pair of free throws and a layup to keep the pressure on because the Blue Devils were still not done.
With 4:02 left, Mufee Cooper drained a long three to make it 62-52 after a Torrington turnover from a ball trap.
Having played against the likes of Crosby and Sacred Heart traps this year, the Raiders maintained their composure for the most part all night.
Villanueva hit perhaps the shot of the night with 3:28 left and the momentum tipping a bit when he drained a three pointer which was followed by a pair of free throws by Thomas and a Davis layup.
That 7-0 run was the back breaker, the visitors were running out of time and gas.
So, it’s on to uncharted territory for the Raiders, at least for this group but this group has done a lot of things that had not been done in a while.
Their NVL finals appearance was no fluke. This team is one committed bunch of players, especially the seniors who simply would not allow this to be their last game, not on their home floor.
Division III Quarterfinals
Torrington 73, West Haven 58
At Torrington High School
West Haven 14 7 14 23 58
Torrington 17 8 29 19 73
West Haven (58): Malcolm Duncanson 6-1-14, Shea Sheffield 2-0-6, Mufee Cooper 4-1-10, Tyrese Hargrove 4-2-13, Laron Holmes 2-0-4, Shante Gause 0-3-3, Jamel Lowery 1-0-2, Tariq Johnson 1-0-2, Javaun Calhoun 1-0-2, Totals: 22-7-58
Torrington (73): Dontae Thomas 7-4-18, Tyreek Davis 6-3-16, Joel Villanueva 5-4-17, CJ Root 3-0-8, Kevin Dixon 6-2-14: Totals: 27-13-73
3-pointers: West Haven (7) Duncanson, Sheffield 2, Cooper, Hargrove 3. Torrington (6) Davis, Villanueva 3, Root 2
Records: West Haven 12-9, Torrington 19-6