WATERFORD >> Norwich Free Academy has seen its share of ups and downs this season, for one reason or another.
But senior guard Marcus Outlow says everyone and everything is all coming together at the perfect time. And NFA has the ECC championship trophy to prove it.
Outlow stunned Woodstock with 19 points as NFA went wire-to-wire to win the ECC Championship with a 58-54 victory over Woodstock Academy in front of an estimated 1,700 at Waterford High School.
The senior guard started the game on fire, canning three consecutive 3-pointers to put Woodstock in an instant 9-0 hole.
“I felt confident pregame,” said Outlow, an all-state football tailback who will play at Boston College next fall. “I got here, warmed up and got a feel for the hoop. I’ve always felt comfortable at this gym.
“When I got out here, I hit the first three in a row and it was a huge momentum boost for us. It got everyone hyped. It got everyone up. It gave us the space we needed and it dictated the rest of the game.”
The hot start had Woodstock coach Greg Smith kicking himself the rest of the evening.
“It’s all my fault,” Smith said. “Because I came out in the wrong defense. It was a 3-2 (zone) and Marcus Outlow buries three 3s to make it 9-0…
“We lost the first three minutes and won the rest of the game.”
NFA (18-6) built as much as an 11-point lead and never trailed. And though he went cold from the floor after his scorching start, it was Outlow’s and his teammates’ defense that made sure the Centaurs never got closer than three points.
With Woodstock making a late run in the closing minutes, Outlow stole a pass and drove in for an uncontested layup. That and a pair of foul shots turned a 51-48 NFA lead with 1:41 left into a 7-point lead with 48 seconds remaining.
“It happens, that’s basketball,” Outlow said. “I just tried to stay confident and keep playing defense on (Woodstock’s Chris) Lowery.”
Desmond D’elia-Miller led NFA on the fast break, consistently driving inside and got a game-high 21 points — not to mention a bloody nose — to show for it. Forward Michael Ryan added 10 points.
Forward William Bourgeois kept the Centaurs within striking distance with a team-high 17. Lowry, Woodstock’s standout guard, scored 12 points. Adam Converse and John McGinn had 11 apiece.
But Woodstock (18-5) could never get over the hump.
“That’s the type of defense we’ve been playing all year,” Outlow said. “That’s what coach preaches. If we can get stops, we can get buckets on the other end.”
NFA had lost two of three games to Bacon Academy and Ledyard at midseason while Outlow was visiting Boston College and D’elia-Miller was out of town with family.
Now, Outlow said, with everyone back and focused on hoops the Wildcats are feeling it just in time for the state playoffs.
“Those things threw us off a little bit, but we just got on a roll from there,” Outlow said. “It shows right here.”
The ECC Championship was also the first for new coach Christ Guisti, who took over for 28-year coach Neil Curland this season.
NFA, the No. 15 seed in the Class LL tournament, faces No. 18 seeded Cheshire at home on March 11. A potential matchup with No. 2 Bridgeport Central looms in the second round.
“Ever since we lost to Ledyard at home, we knew we were better than every team in the ECC and we just wanted to prove it by winning it all,” guard Ramel Williams said. “We think we can compete with anyone in the state.”
Though disheartened, this is familiar territory for Woodstock Academy (18-5). It lost a similar game in last year’s ECC semifinals and went on to with the Class L championship.
The Centaurs plan on duplicating the feat.
“That’s what happened last year,” Smith said. “We took that feeling of disappointment from that and won the championship. We huddled up at the end of this game and said, we did it last year, let’s do it again.”
NORWICH FREE ACADEMY 58, WOODSTOCK ACADEMY 54
Norwich Free Academy 21 12 10 15 — 58
Woodstock Academy 10 17 10 17 — 54
NORWICH FREE ACADEMY
Ramel Williams 1 2-2 4 Desmond D’Elia-Miller 7 7-9 21 Nicholas Crooks 0 0-0 0 Marcus Outlow 6 4-4 19 Ibo Rivera 1 0-1 2 Michael Ryan 5 0-0 10 Brandon Drabinski 1 0-0 2 Totals: 21 13-16 58
Trent Peters 1 0-0 3 Chris Lowry 4 4-4 12 Kyle Duethorn 0 0-0 0 Adam Converse 5 1-2 11 John McGinn 5 105 11 William Bourgeois 4 9-10 17 Totals: 19 15-21 54
3-pointers: NFA– Outlow 3; WA–Peters
ECC All-Tournament Team:
Chris Lowry, Woodstock; William Bourgeois, Woodstock; Desmond Delia-Miller, NFA; Michael Ryan, NFA; MVP – Marcus Outlow, NFA
Updates every minute – View full tournament