NEWTOWN — When Immaculate and Newtown boys’ basketball teams stepped on the court Tuesday night only one thing was certain: A winning streak was going to end.
One point made the difference for Immaculate which earned its 13th-straight victory, 54-53, while ending Newtown’s seven game streak.
“It’s a tough gym to play in,” Immaculate coach Nelson Mingachos said. “Last time we were here we lost on the buzzer in the SWC Championship. I thought Newtown played very well but it was a game that we needed. We needed to be in the game, it was tight and I needed to see how my kids were going to react to it and I am pleased with how they reacted and how they finished off the game.”
The top two teams in the SWC standings entered the game with a 6-0 record in conference play. Immaculate, ranked No. 6 in the latest GameTimeCT poll, improved to 13-1 overall and took sole possession of first place in the SWC while Newtown dropped to 10-4 overall and into a three-way tie for second with Pomperaug and Weston at 6-1.
“Hopefully we learn from this experience. It was a great game, we’ve got six left” Newtown coach Tim Tallcouch said. “This game doesn’t define who we are moving forward, we just have to come in and play hard every single night from this point on. I am proud of my guys and hopefully we get a chance to go somewhere in the SWC playoffs.”
Diego Echavarria played the hero for the Mustangs with 20 points, including the decisive two points from the free throw line with 1.3 seconds left.
“He scored two or four points last game and he comes out with that performance,” Mingachos said. “He’s that type of kid, he knows when he needs to score and he knows when he needs to dish out. He is a true point guard and we needed those points from him today.”
Despite Immaculate holding a lead at the end of each quarter, the rivals essentially matched each other point for point throughout the game, with eight points being the largest deficit for either team throughout.
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Immaculate took a three-point lead into the second quarter and extended it to a 31-23 advantage, the largest lead either team would have.
Newtown responded with a 7-0 run in the final minutes of the half, heading into the locker room trailing 31-30.
The back and forth scoring continued throughout the third and fourth quarters with Immaculate holding a three-point lead heading into the final minute of the game.
Leading 52-50 with just seconds remaining, Echavarria was fouled and proceeded to sink both free throws, shots that would prove to be critical as Newtown’s Liam O’Connell made a deep 3 at the buzzer for the 54-53 final.
“We believe we are the best,” Echavarria said. “We are not going to let anyone take a game away from us like last year. We are just here to win and to make our fans proud.”
Immaculate has not lost since its season opener to Danbury and remains unbeaten in SWC play at 7-0.
“We’re confident,” Mingachos said. “I don’t want them to be overconfident, but they understand that we could do something special and they come in every day and work hard at practice.”
Newtown received its first SWC loss of the season, but the defending conference champions know they are right there.
“You have to give Immaculate credit,” Tallcouch said. “They have been at the top of the ladder for years now. I felt that our kids were ready to come in today and I thought we played a really good game, but an extra shot here and there, an extra rebound decided this game. We didn’t get the extra shot and we didn’t get the extra rebound today.”