WINDSOR — East Catholic had kept Windsor’s Corey McKeithan under wraps the entire second half Tuesday night.
The senior guard had scored exactly two points from the free-throw line as the game featuring the state’s top two teams had reached the final minute. But that didn’t stop McKeithan putting up one last shot.
It was one for the highlight reel: A spin move to split two defenders that went down in the lane with 8.5 seconds left. McKeithan then knocked down a pair of free throws to provide the final margin of victory for second-ranked Windsor, a 48-45 winner over No. 1 East Catholic.
“All I could think about was Kobe (Bryant), that’s it… That’s my favorite move,” said McKeithan, who is committed to play at Rider, about the global NBA icon who died on Sunday. “I did this twice during my sophomore year. On my 360, I usually turn my back to the person. It’s just a reaction.”
Said Windsor coach Ken Smith: “The 360? We work on that every day in practice (said with tongue in cheek). He creates to get his own shot. He is undersized for a guard and he makes great decisions, sometimes. … There are no winners or losers here today. That’s a good team.”
These have been the two best teams in the state the last season and a half. The Central Connecticut Conference rivals met three times last year, East Catholic winning twice, including the Division I state final.
The two teams traded spots in the GameTimeCT top 10 poll when the Warriors lost three games at the Battle of the Villages tournament in Florida in December, but Windsor didn’t lose a single in-state game.
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) January 29, 2020
Going into Tuesday, East Catholic (11-1) hadn’t lost a regular season game since Dec. 22, 2016 — a stretch of 69 straight games.
“Nobody ever talked about it. It’s never been discussed,” East Catholic coach Luke Reilly said about the streak. “That has never been mentioned one time.”
So it comes as no surprise to the sellout crowd of over 1,000 — the doors closed about 90 minutes before tip-off – that the final margin was the biggest deficit either team faced in the fourth quarter. Yale-bound Matt Knowling (16 points) gave East Catholic its first lead of the game, 41-40, with 5:36 remaining.
With Windsor (10-3) back on top 44-43, the Eagles had four attempts at the go-ahead basket, three from point-blank range,. Windsor guard Amir Spears (10 points, seven assists) was fouled, but missed the front end of a one-and-one situation at the free-throw line.
— Joe Morelli (@nhrJoeMorelli) January 29, 2020
“We had a couple of cracks at it and couldn’t get the roll,” Reilly said. “They came down here and did get the roll. … When you lose, you learn a lot and get everybody’s attention.”
Knowling was fouled with 17.6 seconds left. He made both free throws, putting East Catholic up 45-44 and setting up Mckeithan’s heroics.
“Down the stretch we are made to make plays,” Spears said. “He keeps doing it and I’m confident he will make every single one. He practices it all the time.”
After McKeithan’s basket, Knowling was called for stepping out of bounds with just under 5 seconds left. McKeithan was fouled and made the free throws. After an East Catholic timeout, Spears tipped the long inbounds pass to Justice Ellison to end it.
“It was an exciting high school game that came down to the last possession. It lived up to everyone’s expectations and lived up to the hype,” Reilly said. “It revealed some things we need to get better at. The good news is it’s January, so we have a lot of time to get better.”
Windsor jumped out to a 9-2 lead, then 13-4 with the crowd in full vocal support. Reilly called a pair of timeouts and the Eagles played the game at its slower tempo and slowly worked their way back into the game and eventually, into the lead.
“We don’t want to score 48 points. That’s not our pace,” Smith said. “Then we started to miss easy shots and they make you pay when you do that. … It was a good game for us to win.”
These two teams do not play one another again during the regular season. But the CCC and Division I state tournaments remain distinct possibilities.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Justice Ellison, Windsor. McKeithan made the hero shot, but it was Ellison’s double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) that kept the Warriors ahead.