MIDDLETOWN >> The game story is simple: Xavier made the plays at the end of regulation to force overtime and West Haven didn’t.
In the extra session Xavier got the lead, forced West Haven to foul and the Falcons — who were dreadful at the line for much of regulation — salted the game away with freebies to win, 54-46, Sunday afternoon in a Southern Connecticut Conference Quinnipiac Division game played at the Art Kohs Gymnasium.
For West Haven, it was a case of almost grabbing an upset win to go with its upset of Hamden the other day. Coach Harry Bosley wasn’t buying.
“Almost counts only in horseshoes,” Bosley said. “We had a bad turnover near the end when we were up two. We had a chance to have them foul us, or maybe get a basket, and we turned it over.”
The key turnover came when Alex White intercepted a pass in the deep corner with West Haven leading 41-39 with 48 seconds left in regulation. White got the ball as he was falling out of bounds and flipped it to a teammate.
Some eight seconds later Evan Curtin was fouled. Up to that point, the Falcons were a dismal 6-for-14 from the foul line. But Curtin made both free throws to tie the game at 41.
West Haven set up for a last shot, but Xavier got a five-second call, giving it the ball with a chance to win with just over six seconds left. Bosley complained loudly over the ref’s call, but the other official managed to keep Bosley from technical foul territory.
Xavier called a timeout, but on its possession the Falcons fumbled the ball all over creation and never took a shot.
In overtime, Curtin drained a three-pointer and Gianni Calistro added two free throws giving Xavier a quick 46-41 lead. West Haven failed to score, was forced to foul and that’s when the Falcons discovered how to shoot free throws and made 10 of 14 to win going away.
“We grinded it out,” said Xavier coach Mike Kohs, who saw his team improve to 13-4. “We didn’t play great, but we played well enough to win, especially late. No question the play by Alex was huge as was our free throw shooting late and in overtime.
“I’m not sure our intensity was where we wanted it to be and it surely wasn’t at the level it was when we played Shelton Friday. But their style hurt us, too.”
West Haven (6-11) played deliberately, forcing Xavier to play defense for long stretches. In the end, Xavier had 34 shots when it usually gets 45-plus shots per game.
Xavier got off to a good start, taking a 17-11 lead early in the second quarter. But then the Falcons stopped scoring and West Haven closed the half with a 12-2 run to take a 23-19 lead at intermission.
The Blue Devils opened up a 26-19 lead before Xavier got off the deck and tied the game at 26 on a basket by White (11 points) with 3:55 left in the third. The margin was never greater than four points the rest of the way and the game was tied at 28-28, at 31-31 after three, and at 36-36 with 3:55 left to play.
Mitch Nappi put the Falcons up 31-28 just before the end of the third with a trey, but Malachi Campbell (13 points) matched it with a long three at the buzzer.
West Haven built a 41-37 lead with 2:25 left on a hoop by Campbell, but White overcame a 1-for-7 performance from the line to come up big down the stretch, scoring a hoop to cut the lead to 41-39, then making the steal that changed the game.
“Xavier’s experience helped them,” Bosley said. “And our inexperience hurt us. That’s what we’re lacking. But we’re still playing hard and we played very hard today and I think we deserved to win.”
Calistro led Xavier with 14 points and Curtin was right behind with 13. Calistro and White each had 10 rebounds. Jason Frazer led West Haven with 17.
“We struggled offensively in the first half,” Kohs said. “We didn’t get the ball inside and settled too often for jump shots. We also need to make free throws. But we got a couple of big threes from [Mitch] Nappi and we made plays late.”
Xavier (13-4) was 16-for-34 from the floor for 47 percent, while the Westies were 16-for-44 for 36 percent. Xavier finished 18-for-34 from the free throw line. West Haven had only eight free throws and made five.
Xavier is at Fairfield Prep Tuesday and at Wilbur Cross of New Haven Friday.