EAST HARTFORD >> Clang. Clang. Clang.
That’s the sound that reverberated off the walls of the Bernard C. Dandley Gym at East Hartford High School Tuesday night as one Xavier shot after another rattled off the rim. The inability to score was the story as the Falcons lost to East Hartford 48-41 in an opening round game in the CIAC Class LL tournament.
“The bottom line is we couldn’t shoot,” said Xavier coach Mike Kohs. “It was our worst shooting night of the year. We had one open look after another, especially in the first half, and couldn’t buy a basket.”
Here is some evidence to back up the coach.
Xavier had five field goals in the first half and trailed 24-15 at the break. The Falcons then proceeded to shoot 2-for-10 in the third quarter and didn’t get their first basket of the period until Kaleb Lutton scored with 3:10 left in the quarter.
Free throws? Xavier was a bad 8-for-16 from the line, including key misses in the second half when the Falcons finally got off the deck to make a run. But the run was too late.
Despite a dreadful first half, Xavier was still in the game down nine at the half. But East Hartford opened the third quarter with an 8-0 run to take a 32-17 lead. The Hornets’ Devin Marsh was unstoppable in the quarter, scoring East Hartford’s first six points after not scoring a point in the opening half. He finished with eight, all in the third.
East Hartford (14-8) took a 34-19 lead to the last quarter and appeared on its way to an easy win. Not exactly.
“I’m proud of the kids’ effort,” said Kohs. “We got down 17 points, but we didn’t quit. We could have folded at that point, but instead we worked our butts off to get back in it.”
Get back in it they did.
Led by Brandon MacPherson, who had all 13 of his points in the fourth quarter, Xavier chipped away.
With four and a half minutes left, MacPherson’s basket cut the lead to 10 at 37-27. With 3:59 remaining, Elijah Pemberton (14 points) scored to get the margin to single digits for the first time since the half. With 3:31 left, MacPherson scored to cut the lead to 37-31.
After Lutton and East Hartford’s Tariq Ricketts traded hoops, MacPherson drained a three-pointer and with 2:28 left, it was a one possession game at 39-36.
That was as close as the Falcons would get. Colins Nwafor (12 points) was fouled on a slam, but he missed the free throw, a preview of missed free throws down the stretch.
After MacPherson missed a jumper, Nwafor scored on another slam with 1:02 left to give East Hartford a 43-37 lead. He was fouled on the play, but missed the freebie. MacPherson was fouled, but with a chance to cut the lead to four, he missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 1:01 to go.
East Hartford’s Rodley Adjei (10 points) returned the favor and missed his free throws with 54 seconds showing to keep the Falcons’ chances alive. Pemberton made two freebies on the Falcons’ ensuing possession to cut the lead to 43-39, but with only 36 seconds left Xavier had to foul and finally East Hartford sealed the deal when Adjei made two freebies.
MacPherson scored to cut the lead to 45-41, but with 24 seconds left, Adjei made two more freebies and Ricketts added one and East Hartford got to play another day.
As bad as Xavier was from the free throw line, East Hartford was worse, making just 9-of-19. But when they absolutely had to make the free throws in the final minute, the Hornets made five-of-six.
Kohs thought the third period was key.
“We held them to 10 points, but we couldn’t score ourselves,” he said. “We wanted to press and I thought our press bothered them, but it’s hard to press when you don’t score and we just couldn’t. Got open looks, but couldn’t.
“That 8-0 run to start the third hurt. We put a scare into them eventually, but we just ran out of time.”
Xavier finished the season 14-9.