GREENWICH — Not pleased with its defensive performance in its season-opening loss against Wilbur Cross, Hamden entered its game against non-conference boys basketball foe Greenwich with extra motivation and intensity.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they saw just how determined the Green Dragons were on Saturday.
Consistently pushing the ball up the floor, aggressively driving to the basket and clamping down on defense, Hamden opened a 22-point halftime lead and cruised to a decisive 85-51 win over host Greenwich, which opened its season Saturday.
Senior guard Jermaine Dennis led five Hamden players in double figures, scoring a game-high 20 points, 14 of which came in the first half.
“The team played very well today,” said Dennis, whose points mostly came by attacking the basket. “Our energy was high when we first started the game and it stayed high.”
Heston Tucker, a 6-foot-4 senior forward, scored 13 of his 19 points during the second half, while junior forward Mike Greene (11 points), sophomore forward Isaiah Riley (10 points) and senior guard Jayvon Chapman (10 points) also paced the Green Dragons.
“I like how we pushed the ball up the court and our overall team defense was really strong,” Chapman said.
Hamden effectively broke down Greenwich’s man-to-man defense by penetrating to the basket and quickly moving the ball up court. In their half court offense, the Green Dragons also hit a good number of shots from the perimeter.
“We scouted them the other night against Wilbur Cross and we thought we were prepared,” Cardinals coach Chris Lovermi said. “But obviously, we were out-coached, out-played and out-muscled, you name it. Our defense is one of the things we take pride in, but to be perfectly honest, it just wasn’t there today.”
The Cardinals next game is Saturday against South Windsor at the Bristol Central Holiday Classic.
“We need to work on our defense, we have some time,” Lovermi said. “That’s a solid Hamden team. I think they came in here with a purpose. They hit us hard early and we had a tough time recovering.”
Greenwich was paced by senior guard Christopher Genaro’s 14 points and nine points from sophomore 6-5 forward Chason Barber. Hamden jumped out to a 10-3 lead, but Greenwich closed to within 12-10 on a 3-pointer from the right corner by Genaro and a basket from senior guard Max Steinman.
Dennis converted a fastbreak layup and junior guard Ali Aklin drove baseline for a layup and scored while being fouled. The Cards trailed 17-10 after Aklin’s foul shot, but trailed by just two at 19-17 when Genaro scored off a steal late in the opening quarter.
A 5-0 run to end the first quarter, with all the points coming from senior guard Brandon Amos, gave the visitors a 24-17 advantage heading into the second quarter — a lead they built upon.
Hamden outscored Greenwich, 25-10, during the second quarter to take a comfortable 49-27 lead into halftime. Dennis totaled 10 second-quarter points for the victors, who turned several turnovers into points.
“We didn’t play well our first game defensively,” Hamden coach Jarrad Beck said. “Offenses are going to struggle early on, because you need continuity. But you can always play defense. So you can win a game defensively by creating turnovers and getting some easy baskets. That’s what helped us get started offensively.”
The Cardinals trailed 30-22 following Barber’s layup, then went on an 11-0 run to seize a 41-22 lead. Chapman swished a 3-pointer from the left wing, then scored in transition, and Dennis converted a fastbreak layup and tallied off a putback, making it 37-22 with 4:00 left in the second quarter.
“Our team wanted to come out and do what we do best throughout the game,” Dennis said.
Following a 3-pointer from GHS junior guard AJ Barber, the Green Dragons scored the final six points of the second quarter on a jump hook by Greene and layups from Dennis and Amos.
“It’s definitely a tough start, but it’s one game,” Steinman said. “We’re 0-1, that’s it and we have about 20 more games to go. We had good heart, good effort, we just have to run our plays right and hit our open shots.”
Said Genaro: “I’m not worried at all. We have a young team, it’s early in the season and we’re learning. We know what we have to work on and what to do in order to be successful.”
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Dennis was difficult to defend, creating points in transition. Tucker did his damage in the low post, crashing the offensive and defensive backboards.
“Our team is looking very good,” Dennis said. “We have a young team, but I think, one of the best teams out there.”
“We play Xavier next, so during practice next week, we have to go over our defensive sets and keep pushing the ball,” Chapman said.