Raiders one win from Mohegan Sun. Amistad on tap tonight at Wilby.
TORRINGTON: As they went through their final practice before their Division III semi-final game tonight against Amistad at 7 pm at Wilby High School, the Torrington boys’ basketball team was relaxed but intense as they walked through what to expect against the No. 9 ranked Wolves.
The starting five, Dontae Thomas, Kevin Dixon, CJ Root, Joel Villanueva and Tyreek Davis and their teammates are a win away from a trip to the promise land, to Mohegan Sun and a spot-on Championship Weekend.
Nine championships will be decided this weekend at the place where bets are placed and if you were to be a betting individual, you’re not real unhappy with the Raiders chances of taking one of those nine spots.
This team has peaked at what appears to be just the right time, after making a run all the way to the Naugatuck Valley League title game and then facing relatively mild problems getting by their first two games in the Division III tournament.
Everything is clicking right now, starting with a stubborn and opportunistic defense led by Root who has been magnificent at disrupting the oppositions point guard with a fast and long reach that has had a way of finding the passing lanes consistently so far.
The offense has found way to get things done each time out whether it be by running (their favorite) or from half court sets that have gotten remarkably better as the season wore on.
Their ability to handle pressure was aided by the two ball traps or full court pressure they face during the year in their own league and they have come a long way from a loss to Crosby that came from turnovers created by the traps.
To watch the press-break now is to watch a thing of beauty. There has been no panic, there has only been focus. Sure, on occasion somebody might try and dribble through three or four players, resulting in a turnover but for the most part, calmly finding the open man has worked to perfection.
Layups or open three’s have been the norm.
How do you stop the Raiders?
In their first two games, Stratford and West Haven took different approaches with the same ineffective result.
Stratford tried to slow down the pace of play with a seriously deliberate offense that was predicated on cutting and screens to find the open man and for a half it was effective in keeping the Raiders running game in the blocks.
In the second half, the disruptive behavior of Root took them out of their designs, led to turnovers and the running game was let loose in the win.
On Monday, the Blue Devils tried a box and one on Davis but when was the last time you saw a box and one be effective when a team has as many options as Torrington does?
Davis still got his points, 14 of the 16 in the second half and helped by being a facilitator when his shot was not there.
Villanueva has been, well, Villanueva. Those early mornings at the YMCA playing against himself have been paying off over the past two seasons and he is so smooth on the court it seems to come easy for him even though he’s working really hard.
Thomas is the conductor who puts the peddle to the metal each time up court and has succeeded in wearing out both teams by the second quarter.
West Haven in particular was visibly gassed on Monday night in the second quarter when, down 23-18, took nearly a minute off the clock so they could catch their collective breaths.
Tonight, against an Amistad team that does not have a player over 6’1”, the Raiders should be able to do some damage inside but will have to be aware of an athletic and fast group that has won three in a row coming in.
They will drive the middle when it’s there and look to get the Raider big men in foul trouble.
Dixon should be able to do damage of his own inside but will need to stay on the floor to do so.
In the regular season finale against Sacred Heart, Dixon was a force underneath and has been getting more and more confident with his play around down low.
Two fast guards, sophomore Eli Blackwell (#1) and Arthur Edwards (#4) will challenge the Raiders ability to stay disciplined if they are in zone.
Amistad is all that stands in the way for the Raiders to make their first appearance in a title game since back in 2009 when the games first moved to Mohegan Sun.
They are in the Final Four right now and if they play to their ability, should be in business at the place were the slots are plentiful and the lights bright this weekend.