HAMDEN >> Two of the state’s best boys’ basketball teams sold out TD Bank Sports Center at Quinnipiac University three hours before tip-off Wednesday.
The magnitude of this SCC championship game seemed to rival all the previous ones, simply for the fact that 3,421 people saw the action and others were trying desperately to scalp tickets outside the arena.
And in arguably the state’s best conference this season, naturally, the state’s best champion rose to the occasion when it mattered most.
No. 2 seed Hillhouse suffocated No. 1 Notre Dame-West Haven on the defensive end. The Academics won 70-62 for its record seventh SCC championship.
“I would like to play that game every day. Hats off to (Notre Dame coach Jason) Shea and his program, we just got it done,” Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton said.
Christian Adams took home the tournament MVP honor with 21 points. Joey Kasperzyk was the man down the stretch, scoring 11 of his 23 points in the fourth as the Academics (23-1) isolated him in crunch time when the game was still in doubt.
MALAFRONTE: Kasperzyk takes over to deliver SCC championship
“I’ve been waiting for this for three years,” Kasperzyk said. “It’s worth it, every last minute in the gym working hard with my team.”
Said Shea: “We have to do a better job on rotation. We gave them a few too easy opportunities. They were able to dictate once they were winning the game exactly what they wanted to do on offense.”
But for the first basketball sellout at TD Bank since Quinnipiac hosted the 2010 Northeast Conference tournament final, it lived up to the pregame hype. And it was Hillhouse’s trademark defense that did a number on the Green Knights (22-1).
Hillhouse mainly used Tyler Douglas on Notre Dame’ Tremont Waters, who finished with 22 points. The double-team was always waiting when Waters got by him.
“The coaches put me there for a purpose, that I can play defense and that I could D him,” Douglas said. “He’ a great athlete. He shoots really well, penetrates, he is basically the team to me.”
After he completed a three-point play just 1 minute, 17 seconds into the second half, Waters, the leading scorer in the Greater New Haven area, never made another field goal. He committed nine turnovers.
“I’m obviously surprised. It’s part of basketball,” Waters said. “We won a lot but we lost the one that mattered. It’s not going to bring me down, it’s not going to bring my teammates down, we are going to move forward and try to get the state championship.”
Notre Dame trailed 15-2 to start but came all the way back to take its one and only lead, 54-53, on a basket by Jalanni White, with 4:46 left. The Green Knights scored 23 points without Waters to take that lead.
“I think they are physically stronger than a lot of teams we played,” Shea said about Hillhouse. “They played a very physical style of defense on Tremont. When he was going by them, he is feeling bodies.”
Mekhi Warren dunked at the other end to tie the game at 55. Then Kasperzyk took over, scored the go-ahead basket and scored 10 of Hillhouse’s final 15 points.
“It was a little bit of waiting until, waiting until and waiting until and then we just turned him loose,” said Sutton, who classified Kasperzyk as “70-75 percent” as he recuperates from an injured wrist and ankle.
“We’ve played in big games and coached against big-time players — Kris Dunn, Jerryd Bayless — so it was about keeping the kids level-headed.”
Even with all of the celebration still going on at TD Bank, Sutton could be heard saying, “We have to get ready for the season.”
It’s March. Hillhouse’s defense of its Class LL state championship begins Monday.
“When they said that Notre Dame had Tremont coming in and then Coach Shea wanted to go and play up in the LL, I just had to respect them for that because if you say, ‘You are it,’ then you have to come where it’s at. It will be a beautiful tournament … I expect to be at Mohegan Sun myself.”
The only way there could be a rematch would be at the Mohegan Sun Arena in the final. Notre Dame and Hillhouse are seeded No. 1 and 2, respectively.
HILLHOUSE 70, NOTRE DAME-WEST HAVEN 62
Hillhouse 22 11 14 23 – 70
Notre Dame 13 13 18 18 – 62
Mekhi Warren 2 0-0 4, Joey Kasperczyk 9 5-7 23, Tyler Douglas 3 1-2 7, Christian Adams 8 3-6 21, Byron Breland 5 1-3 12, Rayshawn Brewer 1 0-0 2, Davon Warner 0 1-2 1, Jalil Wilkerson 0 0-0 0. Totals: 28 11-20 70
NOTRE DAME-WEST HAVEN (62)
Jalanni White 6 2-4 14, Mike Brooks 0 0-0 0, Tim Dawson 7 1-3 19, Connor Raines 2 2-4 7, Chuck Dikko 0 0-0 0, Tremont Waters 5 9-10 22, Evan Blue 0 0-0 0. Totals: 20 14-21 62
3-point goals: Hillhouse 3 (Adams 2, Breland 1); Notre Dame-West Haven 8 (Dawson 4, Raines 1, Waters 3); Records: Hillhouse 23-1; Notre Dame-West Haven 22-1