Defending NVL champs no match for Hawks

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The Woodland boys basketball team wore green and white T-shirts during warm-ups and on the bench Monday night against Watertown to honor to victims of the Newtown shooting. Woodland went on to upset Watertown, 60-48. –KYLE BRENNAN

WATERTOWN — Tom Hunt told his Woodland boys Monday night as they sat in a Watertown High locker room that they needed to pay proper tribute to the Sandy Hook Elementary School community if they were to wear green and white T-shirts as their warm-up uniforms.

The Hawks did just that, putting in a full 32 minutes of maximum effort and upsetting defending Naugatuck Valley League champion Watertown, 60-48.

Woodland players, some wearing green and some white to match Sandy Hook’s school colors, listened as captains David Uhl, Steve Baeder and Tanner Kingsley defined three characteristics they needed to honor the victims of last Friday’s tragedy in Newtown.

“Honor, courage and heart,” Hunt said. “We wanted to make sure that if we wore those colors, we honored those children and teachers who died by playing with honor, courage and heart.”

The Hawks translated those words into pure hustle on the Indians’ home floor. Woodland hustled to grab loose balls, force steals, snatch offensive rebounds and apply stifling defensive pressure that allowed Watertown just 20 field goals all night.

“We’re like that in practice,” said Woodland swingman Rahmi Rountree, who led the way with 19 points. “Everyone’s on the ground for loose balls, everyone’s hustling all the time. We have a desire to win always. That’s our main goal.”

The Hawks took control of the game with a 16-2 run in the second quarter to make it a 26-17 game. That streak started with a pair of 3-pointers by Uhl and ended when 5-foot-8 junior Shane Classey grabbed an offensive rebound and banged in a layup.

“Shane proved tonight that he was going to outwork anybody who came around and get to any loose ball,” Hunt said of Classey, who often fulfilled the duties of the 6-foot-4 Kirk Chamenko after he was saddled with foul trouble.

Classey grabbed another offensive board off his own missed jumper early in the third, then dished to Rountree for a 12-footer that made it a 33-24 game.

“Shane does a really good job,” Rountree said. “He knows he’s undersized but he plays his heart out.”

Classey’s recipe for hanging with the big boys is simple.

“Box out,” he said. “Just find a body and push them back as far as I can. If I can’t get the rebound, hopefully Tanner will fly in to grab it.”

Kingsley added 14 points while Uhl had 13. Woodland led only 27-22 at the half but dominated the Indians to the tune of a 33-20 for about a 13-minute span in the third and fourth quarters.

The Hawks’ lead reached a game-high 19 points late in the fourth when Kenny Koch hit a 3-pointer. They cruised the rest of the way to an important early-season win.

“We can’t make it too big but we can’t overlook how hard we worked to get it, either,” Hunt said. “We’ve talked about this since the beginning of the preseason, that we could set the tone for our season and slingshot us to what we need to do.”

Woodland (3-0) remained undefeated by thrashing rival Seymour, 83-28, on Tuesday at home. Kingsley scored a game-high 22 points, including five 3-pointers, while Uhl contributed 16 and Classey had 10. Ten players scored in the game for Woodland.

The Hawks will visit Derby on Thursday in their final game before Christmas. They will then prepare for next week’s Candy Cane Classic on Dec. 27-28. Their first-round opponent will be Ansonia.