SOUTHINGTON — Despite leading by two points, New Canaan boys’ basketball coach Dan Melzer was not happy at halftime of his team’s first-round game against Shelton in the Southington Holiday Tournament at Southington High School.
And he let his players know how he felt in the locker room.
“I was pretty hard on them at halftime,” Melzer said. “I didn’t feel like we came out ready to play. We didn’t bring the same energy that we brought the first two games of the season, which was phenomenal. So, I got on them pretty hard at halftime.”
The Rams (3-0) took Melzer’s words to heart, using a 15-4 third-quarter run to take control en route to a 61-50 victory over the Gaels (0-3).
New Canaan will play the winner of the East Windsor-Southington game in the tournament championship game Monday night. Shelton will play in the consolation game.
“I’m proud of the way they responded,” Melzer said of his team’s improved second-half play. “This was our first game away from home. I knew it was going to be a test.”
New Canaan, whcih won the Division IV state championship last year, led most of the first half, but never was able to take control of the game.
Part of that was due to the play of 6-foot-6 Shelton junior Melvin Kolenovic, who scored eight points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked four shots in the first half alone.
The Gaels took the lead 26-25 on a Peri Basimakopoulos 3-pointer to open the second half.
It didn’t last long as New Canaan’s Brandon Sechan answered with back-to-back long-distance bombs to put the Rams back in the lead.
Shelton’s Brian Belade, playing his first game of the season due to an ankle injury and still not 100%, hit a 3 of his own and converted a layup off a steal to tie the game, 31-31, with 6:10 left in the third quarter.
But Sechan started a 15-4 run with another 3-pointer to give New Canaan control.
Leading 46-37 after three quarters, Sechan again started a run to knock Shelton out.
The senior scored five straight points and Alex Gibbens added a 3-pointer to extend the New Canaan lead to 54-37.
The Gaels would get no closer than the final margin of 11 points.
“New Canaan’s very good. They’re defending state champs,” said Shelton coach Brian Gardiner. “I just watched them beat Harding 80-26 on Monday.
“I thought we played really tough in the first half,” Gardiner continued. “In the second half, we started turning the ball over a little bit, took some ill-advised shots. They turn bad shots and turnovers into layups.”
Gibbens led all scorers with 26 points. Sechan added 18 for the Rams.
Belade paced Shelton with 16 points. Kolenovic scored 11 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked six shots.
“I like that we’re up here [in Southington],” said Melzer. “This is a state tournament-type of environment. Hopefully this can prepare us for the future. I’m excited that we get to play for a championship [Monday night].”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Senior Alex Gibbens, who played a key role in last year’s Division IV state championship, scored a game-high 26 points to lead New Canaan.
NOT IN THE BOX SCORE
“Fish was phenomenal for us. Every 50-50 ball, all over the place, handling the ball when we needed him to handle the ball. He really stepped up for us even though it may not show up in the box score. He made so many big plays. I’m really proud of him.” — New Canaan coach Dave Melzer on senior guard Aaron Fishman
“There was an eight-minute span where we went 10 straight possessions where they didn’t score. If we can bottle that up and do that for 32 minutes, we can be really good.” — New Canaan coach Dave Melzer