BEACON FALLS — Tanner Kingsley isn’t new to the whole record-setting thing. He took a black and gold crayon and scribbled all over history during his unprecedented junior season as Woodland’s quarterback.
It’s been two and half months since Kingsley threw his 51st and final touchdown pass to obliterate the old state record of 43. But this basketball season has been a quiet one for the left-hander, averaging about seven points per game fewer than he had during his breakout sophomore year.
Woodland needed him last Friday night against Wolcott, a rival that dominated the Hawks in January. Kingsley knew it and responded, simultaneously announcing that, if he left, he’s back for the end of the season.
Kingsley blew away the school record with 42 points, including a record nine 3-pointers, as he led Woodland to an 86-73 win and a whole lot of momentum entering the Naugatuck Valley League tournament.
“We only scored 34 points the first time we played Wolcott,” Kingsley said, referring to a 49-34 defeat on Jan. 2 in which the Hawks shot 27 percent. “The gym was packed, we were fired up and I came ready to play.”
Kingsley’s effort bested that of Wolcott’s Mike Bozzuto, who scored 35 points and hit seven 3-balls for the Brass Division champion. Every time Bozzuto tried to help the Eagles make a charge, Kingsley answered.
When Bozzuto hit a trey to start the third quarter and give Wolcott a 40-36 lead, Kingsley propelled and capped a 16-2 run to put the Hawks ahead, 52-42. Kingsley and Dave Uhl combined for 21 of Woodland’s 30 points in the period.
“My shot started going off,” Kingsley said. “I was just feeling hot the whole game. Dave kept feeding me and giving me open looks. We were working together and hitting shots.”
Uhl finished with 17 points while Rahmi Rountree had 11 and Kirk Chamenko added 10 for Woodland (11-8).
Woodland coach Tom Hunt said he sensed his team’s motivation entering the game following a mini-slump that included a 25-point loss to Kennedy and a last-second win over a Derby team that has won two games.
“The whole team had something to prove,” Hunt said. “After playing five games in seven days, we felt that we escaped with a win over Derby and we didn’t play as hard as we could. I knew that coming into that game against Wolcott, they were going to get our maximum effort.”
Kingsley’s 42-point effort — the first-ever 40-point game in school history — raised his scoring average from 12.2 points per game to 13.8. That mark still doesn’t lead the team (Uhl’s 16.9 a clip does) but Hunt said it doesn’t mean Kingsley is playing worse than he did last season when he was the NVL’s third-leading scorer.
“I’ve seen that the other teams have shown nothing but respect for him,” Hunt said. “When you go into a game as a coach, you look at who their best player is and try to shut them down. He’s accepted that other teams are going to focus on him and instead of worrying about scoring, he’s been sharing the ball and being a great teammate.”
But now, heading into Saturday’s NVL quarterfinals as a likely mid-seed, Kingsley’s feeling hot — and that’s bad news for other teams in what could be a historically exciting tournament.
“Going into the end of the season playing your best is great,” Kingsley said. “Everyone’s working together and we’re all hitting our shots. Going into the tournaments shooting like I am is a good feeling. We know we can compete with any team in the NVL. You don’t know what’s going to happen on any night in this league.”