MIDDLETOWN >> It’s not how you start, but how you finish.
That’s not an original line, but it applies as well as any to the Middletown boys basketball team’s come-from-behind, 61-50 win over Maloney in a Central Connecticut Conference South Division game played in front of more than 500 noisy fans at the LaBella-Sullivan Gymnasium Thursday evening.
Down by as much as 12 in the first half, and still down by nine with five minutes left in the third, the Blue Dragons, fueled by a stifling, trapping press, went to afterburners to outscore Maloney 31-13 the rest of the way to win their sixth in a row.
“It’s fair to say we might have dodged a bullet,” Middletown coach Rick Privott said. “We didn’t rebound well or shoot well early, but I thought we not only shot better and rebounded better in the second half, but we played very good defense. In the end, I think we just wore them down.
“Howie [Hewitt, Maloney coach] usually plays just seven guys and our depth got to them a little bit.”
Hewitt said much the same.
“Middletown is good in the first place and has a lot of kids who can play,” Hewitt said. “But they ran nine guys out there who had an impact. Still, I thought we played really good defense, especially in the first half and we rebounded well.”
Maloney (2-5) sprinted to a quick 15-5 lead with three minutes left in the first quarter on the strength of three, three-point baskets, one by Jeff Massicotte and two by Nate Vumbaco. The Spartans got another trey from Alejandro Ortiz just before the horn to lead 20-11 after one.
The Spartans opened up their biggest lead of the night at 25-13 early in the second quarter and although Middletown made a run to get the lead down to four, a basket by Damien Pantoja (19 points) just before the buzzer gave Maloney a 30-24 lead at the break.
Maloney got the lead back to nine at 37-28 before Ahmod Privott, who was the game-high scorer with 24 points, scored six points in a row, a spurt that sparked the Middletown comeback.
A trey by DeAaron Lawrence (12 points) and a basket by Tyshaun James gave Middletown a 39-38 lead with 2:37 left in the third, the Dragons’ fist lead since they led 5-4 in the opening minutes.
Pantoja briefly gave Maloney a one-point lead, but Privott drained a trey and Middletown, which led 44-42 after three, didn’t trail again.
“We didn’t do a very good job on Pantoja, especially in the first half,” said Privott. “And Vumbaco [10 points, eight in the first] surprised us. We weren’t looking for him to score based on what we saw when we scouted them.”
Middletown led 51-44 with four minutes left and maintained a five to 11-point lead the rest of the way.
“I thought [Dayquan] Singletary played very well,” said Privott, referring to his first guard off the bench. “He was excellent on defense; he has good hands and good instincts.”
Markevious Snead led Middletown with 11 rebounds and blocked five shots, most of that coming in the second half. Prviott chipped in with eight rebounds.
The Blue Dragons (6-2) were 21-of-48, just under 44 percent, from the field. MHS was only 11-for-20 from the free throw line, but Maloney was worse, going 5-for-10.