BRISTOL — Woodland knew the St. Paul press was coming. But, it’s another thing to beat it.
The Falcons used their overwhelming pressure defense to force turnovers, stymie the Hawks’ offense and put the game away with a third-quarter run.
What was a five-point halftime lead for the Falcons ended in a 79-45 St. Paul’s victory.
Woodland coach Tom Hunt said the Hawks prepped for the Falcons high-octane defense, but it didn’t matter Tuesday night.
“We knew it coming in, we practiced for it, but [it’s hard to prepare] until you get that intensity in the game,” Hunt said of the Falcons’ press. “It did get the best of us in the third quarter.”
The Falcons (13-4) used a 23-2 knockout punch spurt in the final 3 minutes of the third quarter. The Falcons outscored Woodland, 29-7, in the third.
“We’ve been holding teams to 29 points in a half,” Hunt said. “To give up that much in a quarter is tough to come back from.”
In the first half, Woodland (10-8) did a good job of moving the ball and getting quality shots.
Dave Uhl’s layup tied the game at 12 for Woodland with 8 seconds left in the first quarter, one of the many good looks the Hawks saw. At the end of the second quarter, Yahmad Rountree took the ball coast to coast and drew a shooting foul.
Rountree hit one of two free throws to give the Hawks a 26-25 edge with 44 seconds left. Jacob Jacquo capped the half with two 3s in the final 30 seconds, including a turnaround bank shot at the buzzer to give the Falcons a 31-26 lead at the break.
Ryan Angeloszek hit a 3 from the right arc 54 seconds into the second half to cut the deficit to two. The Falcons pushed the lead back to six, then Rahmi Rountree hit a 3-pointer to cut the St. Paul lead to 37-34 with 3:18 left in the quarter.
After that, St. Paul turned it up a notch on defense and Woodland struggled. The Hawks couldn’t break the St. Paul press, and never got Yahmad many shot opportunities.
“When we didn’t handle the press in the second half, we didn’t get those easy looks, which took us out of our game,” Hunt said. “Their team quickness is probably the best in the league.”
The Falcons game plan was simple: Stop the Rountree brothers.
“We may not have the height, but we’re quick and we work together, and that’s the main key,” said Jacquo. “We knew we had to stop the Rountree brothers, they’re really good.”
St. Paul coach Steve Phelps agreed. When Rahmi had ball, St. Paul forced the issue.
“We tried to get pressure on the other people when Rahmi had the ball,” Phelps said.
Yahmad said the focus on him in recent games has been noticeable.
“A lot of teams are [putting extra attention on me] lately,” he said. “It’s good for them but I don’t think it’s really good for me. They did a good job tonight.”
Hunt said the Hawks need to shake off the loss and look to the near future—senior night this Thursday and the school’s second Naugatuck Valley League tournament appearance coming up soon.
“We need to get back on the right track on Thursday night and finish the season strong,” Hunt said.