Greyhounds drop heartbreaker to Middletown

Greyhounds-colorSquareMIDDLETOWN — In a season filled with ups and downs, it was only fitting that the last game of the year featured the same emotions for the Naugatuck boys basketball team.

Middletown’s Antonio White led all scorers with 19 points and made two free throws with 2.2 seconds remaining to lead the No. 15 Blue Dragons to a 59-57 victory over No. 18 Naugy in a Class L first-round state tournament game Tuesday night.

The ‘Hounds finished the season with an 11-11 overall record.

“I couldn’t be prouder of my team for how they finished the year and the game,” said Naugatuck head coach Mike Wilson, whose team dropped a heartbreaking state tourney game for a second straight season.

Mick Pernell and Brandon Kuczenski, both playing in their final game for the Greyhounds, led the team with 18 points each.
Naugy led 22-10 after the first quarter and 32-25 at the half, but the Greyhounds could not withstand some tough breaks and Middletown’s timely shooting late in the game.

“We just got into a flow early,” Pernell said. “We were hitting shots, moving the ball well and playing good defense. They were rattled a bit. In the second half, things kind of shook up a bit.”

Middletown, playing without leading scorer and rebounder Brandon Simmons, chipped away at the 34-25 edge Naugy held early in the third. By the end of the quarter, the Blue Dragons tied the score at 41 to set up a wild final 8 minutes.

Pernell started off the quarter with a nifty bucket in the lane and a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give Naugy a 46-41 led with 7 minutes left. After the teams traded hoops, Kuczenski set up fellow senior Husani Foote (14 points) for a backdoor dunk to restore Naugy’s lead back to five.

From there, the game slowly unraveled for the Greyhounds.

Andrew Campbell trimmed the lead to 50-48 with 3:52 left after hitting a 3 for Middletown, which made nine long-range buckets on the night. Kuczenski answered on the next possession for Naugy with a strong finish on the low block to push the lead to 52-48.
Naugy was unable to convert off a Middletown turnover and with 2:55 left Middletown senior Jaquan Collins drilled a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 52-51.

“We kept passing, screening and cutting until we got the open looks we were looking for and guys knocked down some shots, some big shots,” Middletown head coach Dave Sytulek said.

Moments later, matters got downright frustrating for the Greyhounds.

With 2:25 left, Middletown regained possession. Andrew Mierzejewski, attempting to inbound the ball at midcourt, appeared to shuffle his feet.

Wilson protested the lack of a call and officials assessed him a technical foul. Collins hit two free throws to give Blue Dragons a lead, and while maintaining possession, O’Brien Watson buried a baseline jumper to give Middletown a 55-52 advantage.

Naugy’s Bryan Coney made one of two free throws on the next trip, while Watson answered with a jumper to push the lead back to four for Middletown. Foote scored the next four points of the game, including a reverse layup in traffic, to tie the game at 57 with 33 seconds left.

White drove to the hoop with about 5 seconds remaining, drew a foul and made both free throws. The Greyhounds, forced to inbound the ball under their own hoop, had a cross-court pass intercepted as the clock expired.

Looking back on the season, Wilson focused on the perseverance shown by his team. The Greyhounds turned a sub-.500 start into an 8-4 record over the last 12 games of the regular season.

“The attitude they showed through difficult times — we had a lot of adversity this year and our perseverance was awesome,” Wilson said. “I told the boys in the locker room that I wouldn’t trade them for anyone in the world. Sometimes the basketball doesn’t bounce your way.”