MIDDLETOWN >> The Central Connecticut vs. Southern Connecticut rivalry is real. The teams don’t play much until tourney time, but a check of the social media will tell all you need to know about the cyber rivalry that exists.
Monday night at the LaBella-Sullivan gym at Middletown High was one of those chalk one up for the CCC nights.
Middletown High of the CCC won a 54-51 thriller over Notre Dame of the SCC in front of 600 noisy fans in the opening round of the CIAC Class L tournament.
The Blue Dragons advanced to Wednesday night’s second round game at Bristol Central.
“We’ve had some big wins this year,” said MHS coach Dave Sytulek, who saw his team improve to 15-7. “We have two wins over Maloney, a big win over Bristol Central and wins down the stretch over Bulkeley and Berlin to clinch a tie for the CCC South. But this was one of our biggest wins. Notre Dame is a very good team. Hey, they lost by just four points to Fairfield Prep in the SCC tourney.”
Middletown took a first quarter lead at 10-9 on a basket by Caylen Williams with 1:26 left and led 15-11 after one. The Dragons led 26-21 at the break as Brandon Simmons led the way with 10 points.
“We played poorly, especially in the first half,” said Notre Dame coach Jason Shea. “We didn’t stop their dribble penetration, we didn’t take care of the ball, which is uncharacteristic of us, and we gave them easy trips to the line.”
Ah yes, the line.
MHS was brilliant from the stripe. The Dragons were 20-of-24 for the game, 14-of-16 in the second half and 9-for-11 in the fourth quarter.
And it was at the line that Middletown won the game — and Notre Dame lost it — in the final seconds.
Middletown’s Makai Hunter’s hoop with 1:06 left was prologue to a dramatic final minute. After a timeout, Notre Dame came down court with 56 seconds remaining. ND’s Tahj Eaddy was fouled with 34 seconds to go, but he missed the front end of a 1-and-1.
With the crowd in an uproar, MHS held the ball until Hunter drove the lane with 5 seconds left. He was fouled and after Notre Dame called a timeout, he missed the first of two.
But he made the second to give Middletown a 52-51 lead. After a timeout, Middletown’s Savon Williams stole the inbounds pass and was immediately fouled with 4 seconds left. He made them both to give the Dragons a three-point lead.
Notre Dame got off a decent three-point attempt from 22 feet, but it clanged off the rim as the horn sounded.
Middletown had to come from behind in the second half as Notre Dame had a big third quarter to turn a five point deficit into a 38-35 lead. The game was tied three times in the fourth quarter.
Middletown overcame foul trouble on Simmons (who finished with 12 points) to get the win.
“I was especially proud that we hung in there after Brandon fouled out [with 3:36 left and MHS leading 45-44],” said Sytulek. “The kids didn’t hang their heads and kept fighting. I also was very pleased with both our balanced team effort on offense and the job Hunter did on Eaddy. He averages 17 points a game and we held him to 10.”
MHS had four players in double figures. Besides Simmons, Caylen Williams had 11, Hunter had 10 — including 5-for-6 from the line in the second half — Savon Williams had 10 and Naim Edens had nine points.
Notre Dame finished the season at 14-9.
MIDDLETOWN 54, NOTRE DAME-WEST HAVEN 51
Notre Dame-WH 11 10 17 13 – 51
Middletown 15 11 9 19 – 54
NOTRE DAME-WEST HAVEN (51)
Lonnie Blackwell 2 0-0 4, Tahj Eaddy 4 0-1 10, Alex Puzone 2 1-2 6, Karim Cisse 3 2-2 9, Kam Matthews 3 1-2 7, Kalane Ham 3 0-0 7, Ben Bagnoli 1 0-0 2, Matthew Doyle 2 0-0 6. Totals: 20 4-7 51
Jordan Robinson 0 2-2 2, Savon Williams 2 6-8 10, Makai Hunter 2 6-7 10, Naim Edens 3 3-4 9, Caylen Williams 4 3-3 11, Brandon Simmons 6 0-0 12. Totals: 17 20-24 54
3-point goals: Notre Dame-West Haven 7 (Eaddy 2, Puzone 1, Cisse 1, Ham 1, Doyle 2)