By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News
NAUGATUCK — In a showdown with basketball powerhouse Sacred Heart, the Naugatuck boys got away from their roots.
The Hearts escaped the borough with a 62-59 win Feb. 27.
“We didn’t do the things you need to do to win championship-caliber battles,” Naugatuck head coach Mike Wilson said. “We gave up 14 points in transition and that is embarrassing to what we usually do. That’s like Basketball 101. We work so hard to score and then let them come right down the floor and answer.”
“We pride ourselves on defense — and that’s what we do — but we gave up 25 in that last quarter after holding them down all game,” he added. “You don’t win games doing that and we were terrible at the free throw line.”
Naugatuck shot 15-of-41 from the charity stripe. The Hearts weren’t much better, going 12-of-32 from the free throw line.
The Hounds cut a nine-point deficit down to two with under a minute to play, but Sacred Heart went 4-of-7 from beyond the arc in the final quarter to hold off a determined effort by Naugy.
Naugatuck’s Avery Hinnant led all scorers with 25 points, including 10 in the final three minutes.
Naugatuck learned a valuable lesson and rebounded two days later with a resounding 66-40 win at Watertown to improve to 5-2. Julaquis Minnifield exploded for a career high 30 points, including six 3-pointers, to lead Naugy.
“That’s what can happen when you face a team that settles into a zone,” Wilson said. “He can really shoot the ball and he had a great game for us.”
The Greyhounds got a chance at redemption on March 3 when they hosted St. Paul, which dealt them their first loss of the season.
Naugy ran the Falcons right out of the gym this time. The Greyhounds led 40-19 at halftime on their way to a convincing 63-49 win.
“We got back to our roots of Naugatuck basketball,” Wilson said. “We spread the offense around and made it difficult for them by playing team defense. We also did a good job on the glass.”
Minnifield led the charge with 12 points. Ese Onakpoma had 11 points and Aiden Robertson knocked down 10 points. Jayshaun Lindsay added nine points, Hinnant and Grzegorz Lutrzykowski both chipped in six points each, and Jay Barth had five points.
“Aiden had a big game for us starting and getting ten points. Grzegorz also played well for us for his first year on the team,” Wilson said. “Those are two big guys and now we can go three deep up front.”
The Greyhounds got a pleasant surprise in the lineup with the return of senior Robert Sanders, who recently moved back to Naugatuck from Florida. He checked in with four points against Watertown.
“It was good to have Robert back,” Wilson said. “He moved back home from Florida. We checked it out with the CIAC to make sure we crossed our Ts and dotted our Is, and everything was OK, and we welcomed him back with open arms.”
Naugatuck is scheduled to play Wolcott on March 5 and Ansonia on March 9, before a rematch against Sacred Heart on March 12 at Alumni Hall.