UNCASVILLE — Joey Reilly shouted for everyone to hear: “Give me a ring! Give me another ring!”
The senior guard ran all over the court after East Catholic had defeated Windsor 79-74 Saturday night before 6,783 at the Mohegan Sun Arena. It brought to an end a spectacular career for the senior guard.
“We worked so hard out here to do it on the big stage, that’s what it’s all about,” Reilly said. “I wouldn’t change a thing with all the people I have met. Last year and the year before, we couldn’t get it done. This was redemption.”
Reilly won his second high school state championship with the Eagles, the other coming against Middletown in the 2016 Class L final when Reilly was a freshman.
The memories of losing in the state tournament each of the last two years fueled this run. Last year especially, when Windsor handed East Catholic its only loss of the season in double overtime at the buzzer of a quarterfinal state tournament game.
“It definitely fueled us, last year’s loss and this year’s CCC (tournament final) loss,” Reilly said.
But this year was a far better feeling for Reilly, who ended his career with 20 points to finish with a 104-7 record for the Eagles, playing for Luke Reilly, his uncle.
“It’s a storybook ending. At the end of the day, I was going to come out here and put it all on the line,” Joey Reilly said. “I knew that if we had a little bit of faith, it would all work out. My career was everything I could ever ask for.”
For those who are unfamiliar with the Reilly family tree: Joe Reilly Sr. was the longtime coach at South Catholic, his brother Gene the former longtime coach at Portland. His other son, Joe Jr., Joey’s dad, is the head coach at Wesleyan University
“I’ve had big shoes to fill between my grandfather, my uncle and my dad. We’ve all had a close bond, it means so much to end my career with a win,” Reilly said.
Said Luke Reilly: “Joey is the greatest. He is a leader. He is an incredibly hard worker, but more than all that, he’s a great teammate. To share these moments with him, to have bookend state championships, in Connecticut high school basketball, I don’t know what he hasn’t done.”
It’s the sixth state championship for the Eagles (27-1) and the second time they have defeated Windsor (24-4) this season. East Catholic came into the state tournament ranked third in the GameTimeCT Top 10 poll. Windsor came in fourth.
“I thought it was a great year. We got here. It’s my first runner-up plaque (in three trips to the Sun),” Windsor coach Ken Smith said.
This rubber match was set up by Windsor blitzing East in the first half of the CCC tournament final on Feb. 28, then having to hold on for dear life in the final minutes to survive.
“They came out in CCCs and punched us in the face form the start,” Joey Reilly said. “They were the aggressors, so we wanted to come out tonight and it wasn’t going to be the same game. We came out and executed our game plan well”
The first half Saturday resembled the regular-season matchup when East Catholic established a double-digit lead in the second quarter on the road. It only got worse from there in the Feb. 15 matchup.
“A fire got lit under us. We knew what it felt like to lose,” Matt Knowling said. “Cioach Reilly is the best. He puts us in great situations to win championships.”
Knowling (19 points) went 6 for 6 from the floor in the opening half, everything at the rim. Jaylin Hunter scored 11 of his 24 points in the second quarter.
A 14-2 second-quarter run opened things up for the Eagles, turning a 19-all tie into a 33-21 lead.
“In a game like this, you need to get out to a good start,” Luke Reilly said. “It’s kind of a feeling-out process. It’s the bright lights, it’s the big crowd, it’s the big moment and you have to be on the attack. If you blink, it could be in the middle of the second quarter and the game has gotten away from you.”
East Catholic mainly employed a matchup zone and Windsor shot 5 of 19 from 3-point range in the opening half, 12 of 35 overall, some of them from at least 25 feet. In turn, East Catholic shot 4 of 8 from three-point distance.
“We made a lot of bad decision on offense. We didn’t move the ball around enough,” Smith said. “We didn’t dribble into the seams of that zone and we started jacking up threes, I don’t mind the threes, but I would like a paint touch.”
Junior guards Amir Spears and Corey McKeithan combined for 42 points. Spears scored 41 on his own the last time around.
WATCHING WITH INTEREST
Both UConn coach Danny Hurley and Providence coach Ed Cooley were among their Division I college basketball coaches in attendance for the East Catholic-Windsor showdown. Hurley’s son, Andrew, plays for East Catholic.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Jaylin Hunter, East Catholic: The transfer from Nebraska ended his one-year stint with the Eagles in style: 24 points on 10 of 17 from the floor, along with 10 rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocked shots.
“I love all the guys as much as I love Joey. All of our former players were behind the bench hugging me. There is something special with the culture at East Catholic, a family atmosphere where the older players are passing the baton down to the younger players. In fairness to Joey, I love all these guys the same.”
— East Catholic coach Luke Reilly