TORRINGTON — No. 5 seed Torrington boarded a second-half jet that carried it from a halftime tie against No. 12 Stratford to a 72-47 final in a Division III boys basketball second-round game at Torrington High School Thursday night.
“We played well in the first half,” said Red Devil coach Tim Swaller. “We kept pace and defended their threes.”
Against Torrington’s man-to-man defense, the Devils were more apt to sink their threes, paced by three of them from senior guard Mike August (game-high 23 points) on his way to 17 points for the half.
Worse for the Red Raiders, who built an early 14-7 lead behind eight first-quarter points from Red Raider center Kevin Dixon, August and his teammates slipped past their defenders on drives to the hoop at an alarming rate.
“(The Raiders) like to play man-to-man,” Gamari said.
Nevertheless, when a three by Zach Fedak gave Stratford a 24-22 lead midway through a second period in which Torrington scored just nine points, including a foul shot from Torrington’s Tyreek Davis (10 points) that brought Torrington back to a 39-39 halftime tie, the Raiders were on board with a change.
“They’re quick; we had to go to a zone and get after them,” said Raider forward Joel Villanueva (19 points).
Closing on Stratford’s shooters and drivers in a 2-3 zone, the game literally turned around.
“We were ice cold in the second half,” said Swaller. ‘They made their shots; we missed ours. When we made mistakes on defense, they didn’t miss.”
Suddenly, the game was made-to-order for Torrington, slowing the Devils down for steals on defense, then turning on the jets on offense.
“C.J. Root (10 points) settled us with tips and deflections. Kevin was great,” said Gamari.
The Raiders outscored Stratford 19-6 in the third quarter, 24-12 in the fourth, when Villanueva hit three 3’s and Root another.
When the Devils tried to press their way back into the game, Raider point guard Dontae Thomas (11 points) pushed through would-be traps for quick passes to the hoop.
Dixon (team-high 20 points) stayed put with one of his best offensive and defensive games of the year, with 10 more points and several blocked shots in the second half.
“My teammates have my back,” Dixon said. “It was a good physical game; I just had to have faith in myself.”
More faith is required Monday when No. 13 West Haven comes to Torrington High School for a 7 p.m. quarterfinal matchup.
“They’re quick and athletic,” said Gamari.