WATERBURY — The Naugatuck boys basketball team returned to the .500 mark, clinched a trip to the state tournament and picked up a road win Tuesday night at Sacred Heart.
Brandon Kuczenski scored a team-high 21 points and Husani Foote added 20 for Naugy in a 58-52 victory over the Hearts. With the win, the ‘Hounds improved to 8-8, while the Hearts dropped to 6-10.
“This was our night to get into the tournament and get back to .500,” Naugy head coach Mike Wilson said. “And I’m proud of the boys. I thought we put forth a great effort.”
The Greyhounds put their athleticism and size to work, taking a big early lead against Sacred Heart and holding off a feverish comeback.
Foote drained a jumper and was fouled to begin the early spurt. After hitting the ensuing free throw, Naugy took a 7-6 lead with 5:21 left in the first quarter.
From there, Naugy went on a 12-2 run that extended into the second quarter. Kuczenski capped that streak with his second of back-to-back hoops in the paint to make it 19-8.
“I was really stressing the fact that we have some athletic bigs,” Wilson said. “When we go with Ryan Griesenauer, Husani and Brandon — that’s 6-5, 6-4, 6-4 — who can really get out and run the court. I thought we have to get out and run the court and get some easy buckets.”
Foote gave the ‘Hounds their largest lead of the game with 6:29 left in the fourth. Mick Pernell set up Foote on a fast break for a layup and a foul to make it 45-30.
The Hearts, however, did not go away and the Greyhounds struggled from the line down the stretch. Naugy went 10 for 24 from the stripe in the fourth quarter.
Malik Petteway completed a three-point play to make it 55-47 with 47 seconds left. After Foote made one of two free throws, Petteway drained a 3-pointer to make it 56-50 with 31 seconds remaining.
Vincent Lombardi capitalized on two more missed Naugy free throws and made a basket to cut the Hearts’ deficit to 56-52 with 15.4 seconds left, but they could not get any closer.
Another positive for the Greyhounds were their contributors off the bench, especially from Matt Bradley, Bryan Cooney and Jivan Williams.
“The best feeling for me is to go to the bench and that I’m not going to have a letdown,” Wilson said. “We’re about nine or 10 deep right now.”
Naugy returns to action to host two of the top teams in the Naugatuck Valley League. The Greyhounds face Kennedy Friday and Wilby on Tuesday. Both games start at 7 p.m. in Naugatuck.