MIDDLETOWN >> Xavier junior guard Elijah Pemberton scored 11 of his game-high 15 points in the second half and the No. 7 Falcons needed a gritty defensive effort to defeat No. 10 West Haven, 33-30, in the opening round of the SCC tournament Thursday night at the Kohs Gymnasium.
Xavier (14-7) also edged the Blue Devils twice during the regular season.
“You have to survive and that’s what you call this one…surviving,” said Xavier coach Mike Kohs. “We beat them by one and we beat them at the buzzer so we knew it was going to be a tough game. Fortunately, for us, I thought our defense was pretty good.”
Xavier trailed 18-15 at halftime but Pemberton sparked a 9-2 run with seven points, including a corner 3-pointer, in the opening minutes of the third quarter.
“(West Haven) makes it tough because they’re doubling all over the place,” Kohs explained. “So we tried to move Elijah around a little bit and put him down in the corner and have him coming across just to get him a little different look.”
West Haven, which scored just two points in the final quarter, led 28-27 after three quarters following in a tip-in by Thomas Brinn (13 points).
But Pemberton scored on a spin move between two defenders in the paint and Brandon McPherson (eight points) added a tip-in, giving the Falcons a 31-28 lead with 3:26 to go in the fourth quarter.
Blue Devils senior Gary Dudley (eight points) answered with a driving layup before Pemberton drained a corner jumper for a 33-30 lead with 2:42 remaining.
West Haven (12-9), which was making its first appearance in the SCC tournament in three years, had a chance to tie it in the closing seconds but the Blue Devils missed two 3-point attempts, including a Dudley trey that went in-and-out with 14 seconds left.
A Xavier turnover gave West Haven another chance but the Blue Devils were whistled for an illegal screen with 1.6 seconds to play.
“We got great looks, we just couldn’t make the big shot,” said West Haven coach Harry Bosley. “We don’t have the experience to undertstand what it takes to finish that game, Hopefully, we can learn from this and move on in states.”
Sophomore guard Thomas Jackson added seven points for Xavier, which advanced to play No. 2 Career (17-3) in the SCC quarterfinals on Saturday (2:30 p.m.) at Branford High School.
XAVIER 33, WEST HAVEN 30
West Haven 2 16 10 2 – 30
Xavier 7 8 12 6 – 33
WEST HAVEN (30)
Gary Dudley 3 2-3 8, Kenneth Graham 1 0-0 2, Thomas Brim 1 0-0 2, Aaron Spann 5 0-0 13, Maurice Jones 2 0-0 5. Totals: 12 2-3 30
Elijah Pemberton 6 2-3 15, Brandon MacPherson 4 0-0 8, Tom Jackson 2 3-4 7, Kaleb Lutton 0 1-2 1, Alex White 1 0-0 2, Joe McCormick 0 0-2 0. Totals: 13 6-11 33
3-point goals: West Haven 4 (Spann 3, Jones 1); Xavier 1 (Pemberton 1); Records: West Haven 12-9; Xavier 14-7
“Our league is so tough,” said Kohs. “You’ve got 12 teams and every one of them is definitely capable. We just hope that we play well. We’re going to need to play better than we did tonight to have a shot at Career.”