MADISON — Losing three of the last four regular-season games was not the way Jake Palluzzi planned on entering the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament. Luckily for Palluzzi and the Hornets, Restinel Lomotey is on their side.
Scoring 22 points, including 16 in the second half, Lomotey propelled the 11th-seeded Hornets to only their second SCC tournament game victory with a 50-46 first round decision over sixth-seeded Hand in Madison Thursday night.
“This is a big win for us,” Lomotey said. “We did not have such a great season. We had nothing to lose. We’re pretty sure no one expected us to win.
“This is big. I can’t remember the last time we won in the first round of the SCC tournament.”
With the victory, Branford improved to 11-10 and advanced to a quarterfinal showdown with third-seeded Hillhouse Saturday afternoon at 4:15 p.m. at Branford High.
The win did not come as easily as the Hornets would have liked as they allowed Hand to regroup from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to get within three points in the final seconds.
Hand (14-7) had two opportunities to even the game, but fell short when Christian Koshgarian missed a 3-pointer with 3 seconds remaining.
“We put ourselves in that position,” Hand coach Frank Rossi said. “The game was lost in the first two minutes of the game. They scored the first six points, then we had two quarters, the second and third, where we only scored five points in each.
“You cannot do that against a team like Branford. They execute the fundamentals very well. Being down five to them is like being down 10. They force you to do things you don’t want to do.”
After Lomotey gave Branford a 36-23 lead in the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer, Hand kept chipping away, using a 3-pointer by Brendan Hughes and two baskets by Scott Braren to get within 45-39 with 1:41 left.
Hughes kept the comeback alive with a pair of free throws to get within 49-46 with less than 20 seconds remaining. After Branford gave the ball back, Hand had two shots at the tying 3-pointer but couldn’t capitalize.
“This is big for us,” Palluzzi said after his team snapped Hand’s six-game winning streak. “They have won 14 games. They were playing a lot of guys.
“We made some huge plays. They were bigger and stronger than us, but we hit some big shots. We found a way to get a win here.”
The Hornets set the tone of the game, using buckets by Lomotey, Alex King and Connor Stratton for a six-point lead. With the game even at 14 in the second quarter, the Hornets turned the game around with a 9-2 run.
“We did that without (Jonathan) Fuller,” Palluzzi said. “He was out for four days sick. I kept telling him whenever he was ready to go in there. He is a presence out there. It showed tonight.”
Jonathan Fuller gave the Hornets a 21-16 advantage and Lomotey gave the Hornets a seven-point lead at the break. When Lomotey hit a 3-pointer just 1:31 into the third quarter, Branford had a 29-17 advantage.
Fuller finished with 10 points, Joseph Carbone had eight and Alex King finished with six.
Phillip Crampton led Hand with 15 points and Hughes had 13.
BRANFORD 50, HAND 46
Branford 10 13 10 17 – 50
Hand 11 5 5 25 – 46
Alexander King 2 2-6 6, Kory King 0 2-2 2, Restinel Lomotey 7 5-6 22, Connor Stratton 1 0-0 2, Joseph Carbone 2 2-2 8, Jonathan Fuller 4 2-4 10. Totals: 16 13-20 50
Brendan Hughes 5 2-2 13, Sam Jablonski 1 0-0 3, Scott Braren 2 0-2 4, Phillip Crampton 6 2-4 15, Griffin Wray 0 6-6 6, Dante Egidio 1 0-0 2, Asa Palmer 1 0-0 2, Jack Driscoll 0 1-2 1. Totals: 16 11-16 46
3-point goals: Branford 5 ( Lomotey 3, Carbone 2); Hand 3 (Hughes 1, Jablonski 1, Crampton 1); Records: Branford 11-10; Hand 14-7