MIDDLETOWN >> The mark of a good team is when things go badly, it finds a way to win.
Things went badly for Middletown High’s undefeated boys basketball team Tuesday night in its game with Bristol Central at the LaBella-Sullivan gym. In the first half the Blue Dragons couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean if they were standing on the beach at Rocky Neck.
At one point they missed nine straight shots.
Worse, they fell behind by 10 points late in the third quarter and were on the verge of being blown out of their own gym.
But Middletown found a way and won the game 50-49 when Savon Williams made a traditional three-point play with 22 seconds left, then the Dragons played magnificent defense on Bristol Central’s final possession.
“We wanted to keep them in front of us on that final possession,” Middletown coach Rick Privott said. “Yet at the same time, be aggressive and don’t foul. Once it got to six seconds, then if they were going to beat us with a prayer, so be it.”
Central got off a long trey at the horn, but that prayer wasn’t answered.
Except for an early 4-3 lead, Middletown didn’t lead until very late. In fact, Central broke from a 20-16 advantage to lead 34-24 with 3:10 showing in the third. But the Dragons, who are nothing if not very quick both offensively and defensively, hit the Rams with a lightning-bolt 10-0 rally to tie the game at the end of three, 34-34.
But MHS immediately fell behind to open the fourth as Central, on a basket by Landon Rutledge (10 points), a trey by Eddie Rodriguez and two free throws by Jamil Hornesby took a 41-34 lead.
Again Middletown came roaring back on an 9-1 run and took a 43-42 lead on two free throws from Savon Williams with 4:17 to play.
The lead changed hands three times before the teams tied 47-47 on Caylen Williams’ hoop with 1:26 to go. The drama continued as L.J. Johnson (11 points) scored with 38 seconds left to put Central up by two.
Middletown turned the ball over with 32 seconds left, but got it back on a steal by Savon Williams and he was fouled on the layup and made it, the team’s 12th in 13 tries.
“Yeah, this was maybe one that go away,” Bristol Central coach Tim Barrette said. “But Middletown is a very good team. They’re not 8-0 for nothing. It’s hard to win in this gym. I’ve been coming here four or five years, and I haven’t won one here yet.”
The last possession was wrong from the start.
“It was like I wasted a time out,” said Barrette. “The plan was to get Johnson the ball up top, but it never worked out. The ball went the wrong way and we never got what we wanted.
“Our bigs were in foul trouble, which hurt, and to go 6-for-12 from the line didn’t help.”
Privott felt that although his team was trailing at the half, he liked his team’s position.
“I told the kids that the way we were shooting, to be down by only four was OK,” Privott said. “I figured some of those shots had to fall in the second half. A lot of them didn’t, but enough did.”
Middletown got seven treys, including two each from Jordan Robinson. Caylen Williams, Tyshaun James, plus one from Ahmad Privott, who sat for long stretches with foul trouble. Obviously, they were huge shots.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well,” said Privott. “And I thought our defense could have been better, and it was better in the second half. We wanted to run them, but they did a good job of getting back on defense. Our game is to make perimeter shots and to run. When we don’t shoot well, it gets tougher.
“But we boxed out pretty well and we played good defense.”
Caylen Williams led all scorers with 17 points.
Middletown is home with Platt of Meriden Friday.