DANBURY — The Immaculate boys basketball team is headed back to the state semifinals after a one-year hiatus — one which only made the Mustangs hungrier for a championship.
Seeded second in the Division II state tournament, the Mustangs defeated seventh-seeded New Britain 56-41 Monday night in the quarterfinals in front of a packed house at the Bobby Plumb Gymnasium. And they did it with all five starters — seniors Jake Payton and Ronan Doherty, juniors Mike Basile and Jack Woods and sophomore Quinn Guth — playing their guts out for the entire 32 minutes without a substitution.
Immaculate is one step away from the state championship game and a return trip to the Mohegan Sun Arena, where it won Class S state championship banners in 2012 and 2016, to go along with its 1976 Class S title.
“I believe in my five guys, and I believe we all can get it done,” said Payton, who was a sophomore on that 2016 championship team. “I wouldn’t want to do it with any other group of guys, my teammates and my coaches.”
Immaculate is set to face sixth-seeded Glastonbury in the semifinals on Wednesday at a site and time to be announced. Coach Nelson Mingachos, who orchestrated those two most recent championship runs, likes his team’s chances.
“The best basketball we’re playing is right now — that’s always our plan,” Mingachos said.
“We had the kids prepared, they knew exactly what to expect, and they followed everything we explained to them the last couple days,” Mingachos added. “As long as they listen to us, we’re going to be ok.”
Woods scored 14 points, Payton scored 13 and Basile and Doherty scored 11 apiece to lead Immaculate, which took its first lead in the opening minute of the second quarter on a put-back by Woods and never relinquished it.
“To have the five kids in there the whole time — to have those little guys out there the whole time — they never quit, they never bow down to anyone. They’ve worked so hard every day in practice, and they believe in themselves as much as the coaching staff believes in them. As long as you have that, it’s a recipe for success.”
New Britain, which was playing in its first state tournament since the Class LL in 2015, was led by Thameen Dupree’s 13 points and Maurice Turner’s 10 points.
“We played against a great team,” New Britain coach Kurt Reis said. “Five guards, they all can handle the ball, and they all can shoot. We didn’t execute on the defensive end at times. They made their layups, we missed ours. They made their free throws, we missed ours. It’s simple.”
With not a single starter standing taller than 5-foot-11, Immaculate was at a bit of a height disadvantage. The Mustangs made up for that by playing solid team defense, which has been their calling card all season.
“Defense is something we work on in practice all the time,” Woods said. “It’s where we put all of our focus, for the most part. We know the offense will come because we have a lot of good athletes on the team, and the offensive end usually comes easier than the defensive end. On the defensive end, you have to work hard for the whole game and get in your opponent’s face. Defense is something we enjoy working on, and it’s rewarding knowing you did it well.”
With Doherty shadowing him much of the time, Dupree didn’t score a point in the second half.
“Ronan has been an unbelievable defender,” Mingachos said. “He has locked down the best players, and he’s done all the little things. He’s rebounded, he’s boxed out. And they’re all playing as one now, which is nice.”
Every time New Britain started to gain some momentum, Immaculate had an answer, whether it was in the form of a big shot at one end of the floor or a stout defensive stand at the other.
Immaculate led by 11 early in the third quarter, but saw that lead dwindle to five in less than three minutes. Kaiyon Gunn scored all six of his points in the third quarter to help fuel the Hurricanes’ rally.
Guth responded with a 3-pointer from the corner in front of a jubilant Immaculate High student section, and Woods followed with a layup in transition off a nifty pass from Payton to stretch the lead back to 10 with 2:53 to go in the third quarter. The Hurricanes never came closer than eight the rest of the way.
IMMACULATE 56, NEW BRITAIN 41
NEW BRITAIN (18-7)
Isaiah Jenkins 0 0-0 0; Maurice Turner 3 2-2 10; Thameen Dupree 5 1-1 13; Dashawn Clark 2 0-2 4; Nyzaiah Diaz 4 0-2 8; Kareen Brown 0 0-0 0; Malik Shode 0 0-0 0; Jafari Newman 0 0-0 0; Daniel Kownacki 0 0-0 0; Kaiyon Gunn 3 0-0 6. Totals: 17 3-7 41.
Jake Payton 5 0-0 13; Mike Basile 4 3-4 11; Jack Woods 6 0-0 14; Quinn Guth 3 0-0 7; Ronan Doherty 4 2-2 11. Totals: 22 5-6 56.
NEW BRITAIN11 9 10 11 — 41
IMMACULATE10 19 9 18 — 56
3-pointers: NB—Turner 2, Dupree 2; I—Payton 3, Woods 2, Guth, Doherty.