Coming into Friday evening’s showdown with Jonathan Law and West Haven, Law coach Jamie Anderson felt the two teams were mirror images of each other. After 32 minutes, Anderson was true in his assessment.
In the end, West Haven made two more defensive plays, on its way to a 62-59 Southern Connecticut Conference Quinnipiac Division victory over Law at Jonathan Law. The win allowed West Haven to qualify for the postseason after an absence from the state tournament a year ago, and sent Law to its first defeat of the year.
“I’m a little disappointed because we were in a position to close them out and we did not do so,” West Haven coach Tyrese Sullivan said. “Our inexperience showed. But, I am happy in the fact we won and we responded through the adversity.”
Law was looking to get off to its first 12-0 start since the 1988-1989 season when Anderson was a junior on that team.
“Their spirits are good,” Anderson said. “They know they will come back and work hard. Like I just told them, this is not a football game where one play causes the outcome of a game. There were a lot of things throughout the course of the game which forced us to be down eight points. It was a game of runs. Their guards are very good. They are quick and they handle the ball very well.”
The adversity Sullivan talked about came in the final quarter when Law tried to overcome an eight point deficit and had four opportunities in the final 1 minute, 51 seconds to either tie or win the game. Each time, West Haven came up with a big defensive play or Law failed to covert at the free throw line.
Trailing 58-50, Law went on a 7-0 run, capped with a 3-pointer by Diontae Eady and a bucket by Zane Birks, but Law missed a free throw with the opportunity to even the contest.
Law then had a chance to take the lead, but a steal and basket by West Haven’s Mufee Cooper with 1:12 remaining gave the Westies a 60-57 advantage. Law’s Antonio Brown got his team within a point with a bucket with 54.5 seconds to go, but another missed free throw prevented Law from evening the contest.
“We are really good at focusing on the ball,” Anderson said. “They are a really good team. They are scrappy like we are. We mirror each other well.”
After Law (11-1) missed three more free throws in the final 45 seconds West Haven took a three point lead when Malcolm Duncanson drained a pair from the free throw line with 27.5 seconds to go. Law had one last opportunity to draw even, but could not convert in the final seconds
“We are trial by fire,” Sullivan said. “We are learning as we go. The good thing is we are gaining experience in tournament atmospheres. They are learning how to close out games. We did not do so against Fairfield Prep, but we did so tonight and that is a positive.”
The Westies (8-5) were in control early on after going on a 15-0 run in the opening quarter for a 17-7 lead. Cooper, who had six points in the opening quarter and finished with 15, started the run with a bucket, then gave the Westies a 14-7 lead with a steal, basket and free throw. When Laron Holmes followed with a basket and free throw, and Quannel Straughter sank another bucket as part of his game-high 26 points, West Haven led 19-7 with 1:58 to go in the opening quarter.
“We have played in a lot of games like this,” Straughter said. “We have had time to adapt to these games. This was the one we needed to qualify tonight. We did not make it (postseason) last year and we are here to show we are a new team.”
Law got back in the game with a 7-0 run of its own to get within 21-17 on buckets by Ru Akhtar, Brian Felag, and Brown. The Lawmen evened the game at 23 on a 3-pointer by Eady with five minutes to go in the opening half, then took a 25-24 lead with 3:47 to go on Eady’s basket. West Haven followed with a 6-0 run for a five point lead.
“We accomplished our first short-term goal and that was to win eight games and get in,” Sullivan said. “Now, we will set more short-term goals. We want to get a good seed in the SCC tournament, then win our first game of the tournament. We want to get ready for the state tournament and set some short-term goals for that too.”
Brown led Law with 18 points, while Eady finished with 13 and Jon Vitale added 11.