SIMSBURY—In the month of March, senior high school basketball players have just one thought on their minds.
“I want to be in the gymnasium another day,” said Stamford High senior co-captain Tevin St. John. “That’s why I wanted this game. That’s why I wanted this win. The goal is to keep going in the state tournament.”
And so, the Black Knight boys basketball careers of St. John and the other five seniors on the SHS roster will continue on.
The No. 16 seeded Black Knights made the long bus ride to Simsbury count Saturday night as Stamford downed the No. 1 seeded Trojans, 45-42 in Division II second round action before a stunned crowd at Simsbury’s gym.
“Resilient is the word for this team,” Stamford High coach Zach Smith said. “Resilient in games, Resilient is everything that has happened to us on and off the court this season. We’ve lost guys along the way. But tonight, we had guys step up. But we never make it easy on ourselves.”
Indeed. It was a grinding affair for all 32 minutes.
Simsbury, which ends its season at 20-4 overall and still looks for its first boys basketball state title since 1952, led 10-5 after one period and 20-18 at halftime.
The Trojans were living on good defense and runout baskets in transition.
At halftime, Stamford High decided enough was enough. The Black Knights slowed down Simsbury’s lefty senior point guard Ralph Gilliard (13 points).
“We spent two days in practice going unsder the screen so we could stop Gilliard,” Stamford coach Smith said. “He made some shots but we slowed him down.”
The other thing that changed was Stamford’s St. John impacted the contest.
He scored on two drives to the hoop in the final 2:40 before intermission and added three more inside baskets to forge a 26-26 deadlock with 2:39 left in the third period.
Stamford senior co-captain Jelani Jackson nailed his lone basket of the night — a 3-pointer — with 1:45 left in the third for 29-26. Stamford never trailed thereafter.
Stamford’s rebounding kept Simsbury’s offense in a one-shot-and-done mode.
A drive by St. John (game-high 14 points) made it 37-32 Stamford with 5:36 to go.
It was time for Stamford (in the bonus) to make free throws to lock this victory down.
The Black Knights responded by missing five straight free throws.
In the end, it was a sophomore Jaden Bell who provided the magic at the charity stripe for Stamford.
In the final 1:08, Bell was 4 of 6 from the line.
“Jaden has ice water in his veins,” St. John said.
“Jaden works so hard on his free throw shooting,” Smith said. “We just told him ‘when you make one you’ll get going on the rest. He was huge.”
Simsbury closed to within one point on three occasions in the last 27.6 seconds. But Stamford High’s FCIAC pedigree ruled the evening.
A last Simsbury 3-pointer at the buzzer was short.
“We missed some key shots. Stamford did a good job shutting down Gilliard’s drives to the basket in the second half,” Simsbury coach Greg Stillman said. “Our matrgin for error hasn’t been large all season. You never expect to lose in the state tournament. But we didn’t do the little things. Stamford showed they were battle tested.”
And now, the bus ride and the battle moves to No. 9 seed Amity Regional as Stamford’s next opponent in the Division II quarterfinals. Thias is Stamford’s first trip to the quarterfinals since 2009.
“It wasn’t a pretty performance. But we found a way,” Stamford coach Smith said. “I told the kids this isn’t the NCAA Tournament where No. 16 seeds never beat a No. 1 seed. I reminded them that four times in the past four seasons a No. 16 seed has beaten a No. 1 seed in the state tournament. It wasn’t out of the ordinary. And the kids made the dream come true.”
STAMFORD 45, SIMSBURY 42
Tevin St. John 6 2-9 14 Jelani Jackson 1 2-2 5 Jaden Bell 2 4-7 9 Josh Thervil 4 0-0 11 Harry Constantine 1 0-0 2 Tyheim Burgess 1 0-0 2 Andre Young 0 0-0 0 Manny Azolin 1 0-0 2. Totals: 16 8-18 45.
Riley Griffiths 4 2-4 10 John McNally 3 0-0 9 Ralph Gilliard 5 3-9 13 Brendan Gallagher 0 0-0 0 Justin Mathews 1 0-0 3 Colin Cremens 0 0-0 0 Jackson Butler 2 1-1 6 Jordan Valentino 0 1-2 1 DeAundre Williams 0 0-0 0. Totals: 15 7-16 42.
STAMFORD 5 13 11 16 —45
SIMSBURY 10 10 9 13—42
3-Pointers: Stam—Jackson, Bell, Thervil 3. Sims—McNally 3, Mathews, Butler.