STRATFORD — It was a grind it out type of night for the South-West Conference boys’ basketball champions.
Bunnell, which won the SWC title last week at the buzzer, moved on in the CIAC Division I state tournament with a 71-66 victory over 10th-seeded Stamford Wednesday night in the second round of the tournament.
The seventh-seeded Bulldogs will play at second-seeded Glastonbury Friday night in the quarterfinals. Glastonbury ousted Southington, 60-45, Wednesday night.
“We knew how scrappy they are,” Bunnell coach Dannie Powell said. “Survive and advance is all.”
Bunnell (20-5) raced out to an early lead in the first quarter. The Bulldogs only trailed once, 7-5, with 5:33 remaining in the period, but they used some pressure defense to go on a 9-0 run with a three-pointer by Eli Alexandre (10 points) from the left corner giving the hosts a 14-7 lead.
Stamford slowly crawled back into the contest over the next eight minutes with a three-pointer from the left side by Josh Thervil tying things up at 23-23 with 5:11 to play before halftime.
However, Bunnell closed out the first half with an 11-3 spurt to take a 37-28 edge thanks to a pair of buckets by Khalid Moreland (15 points).
After Alexandre gave Bunnell it’s biggest lead of the night, 40-28 on a trey to start the second half, Stamford climbed back into the game quickly as Bunnell went cold from the field.
“We missed two layups and instead of it being 44-28, it’s 40-31 when they make a three and have the momentum,” Powell said. “If we make the layups, it’s 44-28, and we’re on a 6-0 run.”
Instead, the Black Knights grabbed the lead for the first time in over 18 minutes, 44-43, on a layup by Danny Simms (16 points).
“We got a couple stops being up, but we just couldn’t add to it, which was big,” Stamford coach Zach Smith said. “They feed off their spurts and they had one more spurt than we had comeback.”
Alexandre scored on a layup and Maximus Edwards (15 points) nailed a three-pointer from the left side as Bunnell took a 48-44 lead and never trailed after that.
But it wasn’t that simple.
The Bulldogs took a 64-54 lead with 3:01 left in the fourth quarter and it certainly seemed as if they were on their way to the quarterfinals.
“We missed a lot of shots at the rim, but it was their length and athleticism hurt us,” Smith said. “They made theirs at the rim while we didn’t and that was the difference in the game.”
But Stamford refused to go away and chipped at its deficit. A conventional three-point play by Josh Thervil (15 points) with 1:06 to play closed the gap to 66-60, but Bunnell went back up by six, 69-63, on a pair of free throws by Derrick Gyimah with 33 seconds left.
Jaden Bell, who led all scorers with 18 points, gave the Black Knights a chance with a three-pointer from the left side to make it a one-possession game with 20 seconds left.
“It was our mental mistakes,” Powell said. “We let them have wide open threes when we’re supposed to switch on them.”
Moreland followed with a pair of free throws with 12 seconds left to ice the game.
While Bunnell moves on, Stamford closed out its season with a 14-9 record.
“We just ran out of time at the end and there wasn’t enough time for another comeback,” Smith said. “Bunnell hit their free throws at the end of the game.”