MIDDLETOWN >> If you like high-scoring basketball, players who can not only shoot the three and but also combine that with a strong inside game, and if you love the artistry of a LeBron James, a Michael Jordan or a Magic Johnson, here’s some advice: don’t go to a Xavier High game.
The Falcons play smash-mouth basketball. They play in-your-shirt defense and bodies fly everywhere. If they make baskets, fine. But if not, they are delighted to spend the night at the free throw line.
Their games are always in the 40s and the sound of the ball clanging off the rim is the most common sound that comes out of the Art Kohs gym,
There is, of course, one minor caveat: Xavier wins just about every night.
So it was Saturday afternoon when the Falcons won for the fourth time in five tries, beating Hamden 51-41 in a Southern Connecticut Conference game played at the Kohs gym at Xavier.
Xavier shot just 28 percent. Not that the Falcons were shy — they took 47 shots. But they made only 13. But pay that no never mind. Again and again the Falcons drove the lane and again and again, just like in every other game, the Falcons were fouled and made the freebies.
Shooting a free throw isn’t the most exciting part of the game, but there isn’t a coach alive who will tell you it’s not important. Make fee throws, you win. Xavier makes them. Xavier wins.
The Falcons went to the line 26 times and made 20, including their final eight to seal the deal after Hamden had come from 10 down to 43-40.
“Our defense was pretty good again,” said Xavier coach Mike Kohs, in what will serve as the early leader as the understatement of 2014. “That’s why we’re 4-1. It hasn’t been pretty, I know. But Hamden played hard and that’s part of it.”
Xavier got forward Brandon MacPherson back after he missed the Holiday tourney. MacPherson stepped right into the scrum, was fouled a zillion times and made 10-of-11 from the free throw line and had 17 points. Elijah Pemberton, the unquestioned star of this team, had 18 points and was 9-for-12 from the line.
Not exciting, but again, Xavier wins.
“I thought we played better,” said Hamden coach Jarrad Beck. “We’ve had very little continuity. This was just our third game and that plus lost practices because of the weather have hurt. But other teams are going through the same thing.”
And the 20-to-7 free throw disparity?
“We missed our free throws,” he said, referring to his club’s dreadful 7-for-17 free throw line performance. “If we make our free throws, then we’re not worrying about how many free throws the other team gets.
“This is a tough place to play, but no excuses. Seven out of 17 won’t get it done.”
Hamden (1-2) jumped out to a 5-0 lead and although Xavier tied the game 7-7 on two Pemberton freebies with 2:36 left, the Green Dragons led 11-10 after one.
Xavier didn’t take the lead until Kaleb Downing canned a three-pointer with 4:20 left in the half to give Xavier an 18-15 edge. Xavier opened up a 25-17 lead with a 10-2 run before settling for a 31-24 halftime margin.
Xavier built on that lead in the second half and led 39-29 at the end of three. Then Hamden made a run.
The Dragons outscored Xavier 11-4 over the first six minutes of the fourth quarter and cut the lead to 43-40 with just under two minutes to play. But with 1:29 to go Pemberton made two free throws to give the Falcons some space.
Then Kaleb Lutton made the block of the night, swatting away a Hamden layup with 1:10 to go. MacPherson was fouled on the ensuing possession. He made both and with 53 seconds left and a 47-40 lead, this one was over.
“I thought we got a little rattled when it was 43-38 and we weren’t as together as we should have been,” said Kohs. “They cut it to three, but after a timeout I thought we settled in. We have a lot of young guys playing and it’s not always going to look pretty.
“I know our offense is gong to get better,” he said. “I’m confident of that.”
Hamden did not have anyone in double figures. Blair Johnson led with nine points and Robert Brown had seven. Hamden was 16-for-43 for 37 percent from the floor.
Xavier is home Monday night at 7 with Amity and home again with Notre Dame Friday.