NEW HAVEN — As the 2021 winter sports season has begun to unfold, there has definitely been a learning curve for teams navigating their way through the new pandemic process. For the Wilbur Cross and Notre Dame-West Haven basketball teams, it has been business as usual.
While both teams opened their respective seasons with a pair of victories, the Green Knights may have had the easier time, winning by an average of 40 points.
The Governors, ranked fourth in the latest GameTimeCT Top 10 poll, were set to give the Green Knights their first test of the season.
Cross did give the Green Knights a battle, but in the end, the result was the same as the sixth-ranked Green Knights improved to 3-0 with a 70-52 Southern Connecticut Conference Division I victory over the Governors at the Floyd Little Athletic Center Tuesday evening.
“I am extremely proud of this team,” Notre Dame coach Jason Shea said. “We are an inexperienced group in terms of varsity play. We have really good leadership from our seniors. They showed their maturity tonight. We continued to execute the game plan.”
Notre Dame showed its depth by turning to a number of different players throughout the contest. In the end, it was senior Benjamin Carroll who stepped up and showed the way with 27 points, including 15 in the second half when the Greens Knights pulled away.
“He (Carroll) has been the best big in the league the last couple of years,” Shea said. “He may even be in the top two in the state. I think tonight he showed that.”
Carroll set the tone of the second half right away as he scored the first four points as part of a 6-0 run to extend Notre Dame’s lead to 39-25.
“We came in knowing we had a size advantage with me and Timaury (Gay),” Carroll said. “Our coach believes in us and we just have to go out there and execute. I thought we were able to do a great job tonight.”
Despite trailing by 11 to start the second half, the young Governors (2-1) refused to quit, going on a 9-0 run to get within 41-39 with 2 minutes, 46 seconds left in the third quarter. Baskets by Javon Taylor, Jamel Lee, and Ja’don Thomas got Cross going, before a 3-pointer by Christian McClease got Cross within two.
“We are a bunch of young kids trying to get some experience,” Cross coach Kevin Walton said. “This is nothing we can’t fix. I do not think we were as determined as they were tonight. Everybody is going to give us their best shot because we are Wilbur Cross. Notre Dame had more motivation to win this game.”
With Cross trailing by two, Notre Dame pulled away for good, scoring the final six points of the third quarter, including four by Gay. The six points began a 15-0 run which ended in the fourth quarter on a bucket by senior James Rawlins for a 56-39 advantage.
The run showed Notre Dame’s depth and also its ability to win the contested balls on the inside. The two proved too much for Cross to handle.
“We are able to comfortably go ten deep,” Shea said. “We have some nice depth and I thought we were able to control the inside with our size advantage.”
Cross had defeated the Green Knights in the SCC finals the last two times held at the Floyd Little Athletic Center with Notre Dame winning its share of the meetings in the conference tournament in prior years. All this makes for a great rivalry.
“We have had success here as well,” Shea said. “We have had some great games against each other. The guys played hard tonight and the result was earned.”
For the Green Knights, it was a first half of runs which helped extend a close game to a 33-25 Notre Dame advantage at the half. Rawlins had 13 points in the opening half, including nine in the first quarter when the Green Knights opened a 13-6 advantage.
Notre Dame controlled play early in the contest, winning just about every battle and taking an 8-2 lead on a 3-pointer by senior Robert Oliverio.
The Governors got as close as 18-15 in the opening half on a bucket by Dereyk Grant, but Notre Dame used a 10-1 run to take a 31-18 lead. Cross remained in the contest with the next seven points, starting with a 3-pointer from McClease and ending with a basket by Lee to get within 31-25.
“This was a nice test for us,” Walton said. “We have a nice, young team. We are glad to be playing. There effort was there. We played to the end. A lot of positives came out of this game. We know we can play. We will be much better when it is time for the SCC tournament.”
Rawlins finished with 18 points and Mekhi Conner had eight in the win for the Green Knights. Taylor led Cross with 15 points, while McClease had 14 and Grant had 12 in the loss for the Governors.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Benjamin Carroll — Notre Dame senior finished with 27 points, including 15 in the decisive second half.
“We are a bunch of young kids trying to get some experience. This is nothing we can’t fix. I do not think we were as determined as they were tonight. Everybody is going to give us their best shot because we are Wilbur Cross. Notre Dame had more motivation to win this game.”
— Wilbur Cross coach Kevin Walton