EAST HAVEN – Trailing by 16 points at halftime, Shelton’s two seniors, Peri Basimakopolous and Mike Callinan, weren’t about to leave East Haven High without putting up a fight.
Basimakopolous provided the spark to get the Gaels back in the game, and Callinan delivered the knock punch to lift Shelton to a 48-44 overtime victory over East Haven in a Southern Connecticut Conference cross-over game Friday night.
The Gaels (7-4) have now won seven of their last eight games after starting the season 0-3. They are in first place in the SCC Quinnipiac Division with a 3-0 mark.
Friday’s game looked bad from the outset against an East Haven team Shelton had beaten by 26 points just three weeks earlier.
East Haven opened the game with a 9-0 run before Shelton’s Melvin Kolenovic broke the ice with a bucket 3:30 into the game.
Things got worse for Shelton.
The 3-8 Yellowjackets fed off of the quick start and built their lead to as many as 16 points, 28-12, on an Alias Ford (game-high 19 points) basket to close out the first half.
The Gaels probably expected a halftime tongue-lashing from coach Brian Gardiner, but didn’t get one.
“Sometimes he can get mad,” said Basimakopolous. “But he knew what he was doing. He went in there and he said, ‘There’s not a lot for me to say. Look in the mirror, guys. This is on you guys.’
“Coach left,” Basimakopolous continued. “Mikey and I got everyone together, we got some energy going and we said, from here on out, we have to give 100% effort.”
“We didn’t want to lose this game,” said Callinan. “We knew we had to battle back.”
Gardiner went to a five-guard lineup to pick up the pace, and it worked, both offensively and defensively.
Basimakopolous provided the spark needed, scoring nine points over the final 2:51 of the quarter to pull Shelton within 33-30 after three quarters.
The Gaels took their first lead of the game, 39-36, on a Brian Belade trey with 3:50 left.
East Haven’s Ian Reynolds answered to tie the score at 39, but Belade (14 points, 7 rebounds) rose to the occasion once more on Shelton’s next possession to make it 42-29.
East Haven didn’t go away.
The Yellowjackets added a big three-pointer to take a 43-42 lead with two minutes left.
Basimakopolous made a pair of free throws with 1:20 to go, but East Haven freshman Theo Rawls made the back end of two free throws with 16 second left to tie the score at 44.
Basimakopolous had a chance to win it at the end of regulation, but misfired on a three-pointer, sending the game into overtime.
East Haven was content to run almost two minutes off the clock before Kolenovic blocked a shot and grabbed the rebound with two minutes left in the extra session.
With the game on the line, Callinan took matters into his own hands.
“The entire game, their two guys up top – they were playing a 2-3 zone – they were splitting, trying to get on our two good shooters, Belade and Peri. I did a pump fake to the right and drove to the left and I was like, I’m going to finish this. Luckily, it went in.”
Callinan’s scoop lay-up in traffic gave Shelton a 46-44 lead with 1:33 left.
Callinan wasn’t done.
After an East Haven turnover, he started to drive into the lane again, but had the ball poked away in the process. With Gardiner unsuccessfully trying to call a time out, Callinan was able to push the loose ball to Kolenovic who made the lay-up and made it a two-possession game with 38 seconds left.
The Yellowjackets missed a three-pointer with 25 seconds left, icing the Shelton victory.
“In the end, since we won, I’m kind of glad that happened because it proved me right because I told them, if they don’t come out and play hard from the beginning of the game in someone else’s gym, they’re going to have a problem,” said Gardiner. “And that’s what happened. We were going through the motions, we were taking bad shots, weren’t defending, there was no energy.”
Shelton returns to action Tuesday night with a Quinnipiac Division game against Career. The Gaels can qualify for both the SCC and CIAC postseason tournaments with a victory.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Peri Basimakopolous and Mike Callinan. Shelton’s two seniors came up big when necessary. Basimakopolous scored 13 of his team-high 15 points after halftime, and Callinan (5 points) hit the game-winning lay-up and assisted on a critical insurance basket.
“Mikey’s playing like a senior. I’ll be honest, and I was honest with him and he knows, I did not expect him to be starting this year. But he works so hard and he doesn’t make mistakes and he does things the right way, and sometimes seniors that really want to win are impactful. And that’s what he’s been. He’s been far and above my expectations.” – Shelton coach Brian Gardiner on starting guard and senior Mike Callinan