NORTH HAVEN — A 21 point deficit was down to just five and plenty of time remained for Delshawn Jackson and Prince Tech to pull off a miracle in the Division III boys basketball semifinals.
Instead, Waterford senior guard Mikey Buscetto does what he’s always done throughout his stellar career.
He seized the moment.
Buscetto scored 15 points in the fourth quarter — including a nearly unconscious 10-of-12 performance at the foul line — to stave off a Prince Tech comeback and lift the Lancers into the Division III state championship game with a 77-76 victory in front of a packed house North Haven’s Fred Kelly Gymnasium. The crowd counted former UConn coach Jim Calhoun and Southern Connecticut State coach Scott Burrell among its attendees.
Waterford will make the short trip to Mohegan Sun Area for the Division III final for a Sunday morning final vs. Avon, which stunned Enfield, 76-75 at the buzzer in the other D3 semifinal.
This will be Waterford’s third trip to the state championship game and first since 2012, when the Lancers won the Class M championship, 71-57 over Watertown. Buscetto and his senior teammates were just seventh graders back then.
“I’ve been dreaming about this since my freshman year, running out of that arena,” said Buscetto, who finished with a team-high 27 points. “I just want to get out on that floor and show them what I can do.”
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) March 15, 2018
The victory ended what had been a banner season for Prince Tech, which was two buzzer-beaters away from an unbeaten regular season and only a few breaks from the school’s third state final.
Thanks to an otherworldly first-half performance by Waterford, which went 7-of-10 from the 3-point line in the first half, dominated the boards and created havoc in the open court, the Lancers took an early 8-0 lead en route to a commanding 21-point advantage early in the third quarter.
But Buscetto spent most of the third quarter on the bench with his third foul and Prince Tech took advantage.
Sparked by Jackson’s game-high 28 points and aided by the foreboding presence of tall forwards Kaheem Stewart (4 points) and Kazell Stewart (22), the Falcons chipped away.
Jackson had one field goal in the first half, but he caught fire with 20 points in the second. His slicing drive got Prince Tech within 58-53 with just under 6 minutes remaining.
“That team is tremendous in the second half and Delshawn Jackson is one of the best players in the state,” Waterford coach Bill Bassett said. “When he’s on the floor he can put up points at any moment.”
But Bassett and Waterford had Buscetto. And when crunch time arrived, the senior put his team on his back with a pair of foul shots, a 3-pointer and then a gorgeous halfcourt feed to teammate Eric Pinch for a basket that put Waterford back up 12 with three minutes remaining.
“Any coach in the state would feel comfortable putting the ball in Mikey’s hands at the end of the game,” Bassett said.
On cue, Buscetto and Pinch then iced the game by making 16-of-18 foul shots.
— Peter Huoppi (@phuoppi) March 15, 2018
“I didn’t play much in the third quarter, I just needed to go back out there and figure out a way to get us the win,” Buscetto said. “It came down to my free throws, which won us the game.
“This summer, I’m not lying, my dad would have me outside shooting a hundred free throws and I was usually in the 75-to-80 [percent] range. Nut every day I was out there shooting. … It all comes down to free throws, even the NCAA and NBA. They’re huge.”
Prince Tech’s fate was sealed when Jackson fouled out with under a minute remaining, joining fellow guard Michael Best.
“We got to within five,” Prince Tech’s 26-year coach Kendall May said. “If we don’t spot them 10, 15 points in the first half, it could have been a different game. But we did.”
Jackson, one of the state’s leading scorers, sobbed with his family as he reached the bench for the final minute of his high school career.
“Delshawn’s a great player, but he’s a better person,” May said. “We got to see the other side of him, the sad side of a great player when it’s his last game, his last chance to tie the sneakers up and play a high school basketball game that means something.”
As for Waterford, they’ll marshal its raucous fanbase for a Sunday morning championship game vs. Avon. Tip is 10:30 a.m.
“My dreams haven’t come true yet,” Buscetto said. “I want a ring on my finger and then my dreams will come true.”
Waterford 77, Prince Tech 68
Eric Pinch 5 4-6 16 Omar Rahman 0 0-2 0 Mikey Buscetto 7 10-12 27 Liam Spellman 3 0-0 8 Trevor Yeomans 5 0-0 11 J.J. Brennan 1 0-2 3 Max Mazzella 3 0-0 6 Payton Sutman 3 0-0 6 Totals: 27 14-22 77
Darius Nelson 2 0-0 4 Delshawn Jackson 8 11-13 28 Juron Jameson 1 0-0 3 Michael Best 2 3-4 7 Kaheem Stewart 2 0-0 4 Kazell Stewart 9 4-8 22 Totals: 24 18-25 68
Waterford 28 17 11 21 — 77
Prince Tech 11 17 15 25–68
3-pointers: W–Pinch 2, Buscetto 3, Spellman 2, Yeomans, Brennan; PT–Jackson, Jameson. Fouled out: PT–Jackson, Best.