NORTH HAVEN — Every time Branford makes the 20-minute trek north to play at North Haven, Jake Palluzzi knows it won’t be an easy night.
It was that way again Friday night as the Hornets rebounded from a lethargic first half to post a 50-40 Southern Connecticut Conference Oronoque Division victory over North Haven at the Fred Kelly Gymnasium.
“They made us play like we didn’t want to play,” said Palluzzi, whose team evened its record at 4-4 with the win. “I knew they would play hard and I knew it would be a tough game here. It always is, but we were happy to get out of here alive.”
North Haven (1-5) came into the game at a disadvantage as senior guard Josh Lopez was forced to sit out the game after being suspended for two games because of his participation in a bench-clearing brawl at Wilbur Cross Tuesday night. Lopez was averaging 12 points a game.
“Not having Lopez came back to hurt us,” North Haven coach Pete Civitello said. “This loss puts us behind the 8-ball early. Tonight we chose a bad night to play badly.”
Neither team was able to grab more than a three-point edge in the first half as the lead was exchanged seven times. Alex King (game-high 17 points) hit a pair of layups to close out the half with the Hornets leading 22-19.
“We started off in a zone and went to man,” King said. “When we were in a zone they kept banging 3s from the side. We seemed to do a little better in man, which I like playing better.”
But the second half was a different story with Branford going on an 11-2 run to start the half with King hitting a pair of 3s and Restinel Lomotey (14 points) another to give the Hornets a 34-21 edge with 4:35 remaining in the third quarter.
“We were hurting and needed something to spark some life,” King said. “Nothing’s better than three 3s.”
The Indians kept Branford from raising its margin and were able to cut the lead to seven points, 38-31, with 7:17 to go when Matt Defrancesco (nine points) hit a pair of free throws.
“When we cut it to eight, we had some momentum and then Lomotey hit another big 3 to put them up by 11 again,” Civitello said. “And we never had a big spurt in the second half.”
At the time, Lomotey was also whistled with his fourth foul and Branford was forced to shuttle him in and out to avoid a fifth foul, which would have disqualified him.
“I was going to just get him out but I was upset because of the reach-in foul,” Palluzzi said. “He knows what to do when he gets in foul trouble.”
But Branford then went on a 7-2 run with Lomotey hitting a 3-pointer from the right corner and Fuller adding a free throw and a jumper from the top of the key to give the Hornets a 45-33 edge with 3:36 to play.
From that point on, it became a free-throw contest with Branford hit five of them to ice the game.
Jack Steinman led North Haven with 16 points.