HAMDEN — It had every look of a season opener: missed shots from close range, lots of turnovers, two teams trying to get in the groove for a long season.
Tuesday’s Southern Connecticut Conference game didn’t have the look of a preseason top-five matchup, but you can bet both teams will be in the thick of things come late February. And maybe, just maybe, we may have a new team at the top of the league standings.
No. 5 Hamden was able to knock off Mercy, the preseason No. 1 team in the GameTimeCT poll, 51-36. It will take time to see if the Green Dragons will be able to handle the spotlight, but they certainly have the pieces to be able to do so.
“Give us the best of the best, Mercy ranked No. 1, let’s see what we can do against a team that will expose our weaknesses and what we need to work on,” Hamden coach Amanda Forcucci said. “Hey, we are 1-0. This doesn’t prove anything. We have a lot of good teams on our schedule.”
Taniyah Thompson, who led the way with 22 points, recently signed a National Letter of Intent to play at the University of Rhode Island. Makaela Johnson, who added 12 points, will play at Albany next season.
All five starters are back, providing huge expectations for these Green Dragons.
“They (Thompson and Johnson) are our captains and our leaders,” Forcucci said. “We count on them for multiple things not only on the court. … Those are the kids who set the pace.”
Mercy had the look of a team that lost three starters, including Bella Santoro, last year’s Area Most Valuable Player for the New Haven Register. The Tigers, who won both the SCC and Class LL state tournament championships last season, committed 22 turnovers against Hamden.
“This is a very good team,” Mercy coach Tim Kohs said about Hamden. “I thought we were up against it, needing to play a very good game to win and a very good game to be in it. They are very talented, long, athletic and it doesn’t help play them game one. As much as you practice and scrimmage, there is nothing like the first game: the speed, tempo, intensity. And the kids have butterflies.”
Kameryn King had more than half of Mercy’s points, finishing with 19, but was held scoreless in the final quarter.
Lexi Leon added nine for the Tigers
Hamden scored the game’s first six points and never trailed. The Green Dragons had a brief double-digit lead in the first half, then went up by 13 when Thompson hit the first two baskets of the third quarter.
The Tigers managed to hang around and were down just seven (38-31) heading into the final quarter.
But then the Tigers went cold, not scoring for over 5 minutes in the final quarter. Johnson scored seven of her points in the quarter.
“Defensively, I thought we did a fantastic job,” Forcucci said. “We played a shooting team with a 2-3 zone that was very active. We knew where King was. They were very locked in, which made me very, very proud of them.”
This is just the start of what looks to be a brutal stretch of games for Mercy.
“Our first 8-10 games are as hard a schedule as we have ever put together,” Kohs said. “We will have to play well, or we will be looking up (in the standings). If that is the case, we will have to figure things out. I think we will be a very good team in the second half of the season.”
That eighth game will be a rematch with the Green Dragons, Jan. 9 in Middletown.