UNCASVILLE — Ryan O’Connell ran the break, Jay Jay Brennan hit him with the pass and O’Connell threw a thunderous dunk to the delight of the Waterford fan base at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
There was a still a minute to go but the result was no longer in doubt. The kings of the Mohegan Sun were also now the kings of the Division II state tournament.
Waterford, the top seed, defeated No. 6 New Britain 63-56 Sunday night in the finale of the CIAC state finals before 6,878 at the Sun.
“We are not a group of indivuals, we are one unit and we came together and got the win.” said O’Connell, who finished with 14 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.
Waterford (27-1) is obviously good no matter where it plays its games, having lost the one game in January in overtime to East Lyme on the road. But the Lancers seem very comfortable in the confines of the Sun.
Last year, Waterford won on a Sunday, defeating Avon to claim the Division III state championship. On Feb. 26, the Lancers defeated Norwich Free Academy to win the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I title.
“The second one always feels great but this was a dogfight,” Waterford coach Bill Bassett said. “New Britain is a tremendous team, a tremendous program. … This one we had to grind out the entire way and it feels really good right now.”
Said O’Connell: “This is like our second court.”
Surprisingly, Waterford didn’t have the crowd advantage despite the short drive up I-395. New Britain brought a ton of people — and the school band — and was into it early.
“The support was there definitely. The city definitely came out and supported the kids, supported the program,” New Britain coach Kurt Reis said.
After New Britain got out to a quick 7-1 lead, Waterford scored the next 10 points.
O’Connell’s three-point play less than 2 minutes into the second half gave Waterford the lead for good at 18-15. That was the fourth offensive rebound in that sequence for Waterford.
The Lancers outrebounded New Britain 41-26.
“They had more second-half points. Ultimately, it came down to layups. Layups killed us,” Reis said.
Said Bassett: “This is one of the best units I’ve ever had to coach. They all trust each other and play so hard together.”
The 6,878 people was five less than the Saturday night session. That brought the total to 20,930 for the entire weekend, which according to Mohegan Sun officials, is a record since the state championship games for boys and girls moved to Mohegan for the 2008-09 season. The previous record was 20,897 in 2015.
The Hurricanes (20-7) trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half and got within three.
“Defense is what got us here. Our defense ultimately put us in a position to lose the game because it was not our best (effort),” Reis said.
Maurice Turner led New Britain with 19 points while Dashawn Clark added 15.
Win again in Division I?
It remains to be seen if Waterford will now move into the Division I tournament next season based on its tournament success. While there has been plenty of chatter about teams being misplaced by certain fan bases, Bassett won’t be one to complain.
“I think we can play at our town hall if we have to. My kids will adapt,” Bassett said. “If its Division I next year, we will come out and play. Give me a court and a round ball and we will come out and play. I try to worry about things I can control.”
Player of the Game
Ryan O’Connell, Waterford: The only person on the floor with a double-double (14 points, 15 rebounds). He added two steals and a block.
“I always felt this year if you take away X, we are going to hit you with Y, if you take away Y, we have Z waiting for you, you take away Z, going to go back to X, keep working our way around.” — Waterford coach Bill Bassett