ANSONIA — Woodland prevailed in a Naugatuck Valley League Brass Division clash in Ansonia Tuesday night, beating the buzzer and the Chargers, 56-55.
Ansonia made a furious comeback with under a minute to play only to fall short.
It was a 56-50 Hawks advantage with 52 seconds remaining when the game turned into a white-knuckle affair. Christian Abdul-Akbar (18 points) drove the lane and got one to go off the window for the Chargers.
With 17 seconds left, Keshont Graham (nine points) let loose a 3-pointer from the wing and it was a 56-55 game. The Chargers came out of a timeout with one more play to run and only 7 ticks left on the clock.
Graham took it around a screen and headed down to the baseline. He released a shot that hit the bottom of the backboard and as the buzzer sounded Ryan Angeloszek secured the rebound for the Hawks.
“As a team, as a program this was a huge step forward for us,” said Woodland coach Tom Hunt. “With the state tournament coming up this is the kind of defining game that can carry over into the post season. This was a huge experience to build on and work on better game management down the stretch and I couldn’t be more proud of our kids.”
This game actually played out like three games in one. Both teams surrendered big leads before it turned into a real seat-grabber in the final period. Woodland threatened to run the Chargers right out of their own gym as they exploded to a 10-2 lead with 2:46 remaining in the first period.
Ansonia recovered and was running away with it as the Chargers built a comfortable, 29-19 lead at the half. Whatever Hunt said to his team in the locker room at the break it was heard loud and clear.
Woodland survived 10 fouls against itself in the third period to hang 21 points on the board to get back in the game.
“This is the first time all season that I actually called out my team leaders,” Hunt said. “We were playing a little passive. I went to my captains and my seniors and let them know we weren’t pleased as a coaching staff.
“We didn’t feel we were getting the maximum effort out of them,” Hunt continued. “This is my fourth year in the program and these seniors got together and showed the rest of the team what it means to wear the Hawks jersey.”
Rahmi Rountree (21 points, three 3s) got it started with a pair of pull-up jumpers in the lane. Yahmad Rountree (19 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks, five assists) scored 10 points in the third period and three times scored put-backs to cut the deficit to a one-possession game.
Ansonia was slowed down by the suffocating defensive effort from Ian Bures and Sean Deegan. But the fouls were piling up as Bures went to the bench with three personals in a span of three minutes.
The Chargers failed to take advantage as they hit just 5-of-12 from the charity stripe in the period. Yahmad drove the lane for a bucket to give Woodland its first lead at 40-39 since the opening period with 40 seconds left in the third.
Ansonia managed to take a 43-40 lead into the final eight minutes. The Charges’ defense started to double-team the Hawks’ two leading scorers but Angeloszek (eight points, seven rebounds) rippled the net with a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 45-44.
With 5:36 to go, Tanner Kingsley (five points) buried a three from the top of the key to give Woodland a lead it wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the way.
With a 52-50 lead and 1:23 to play, Deegan caused a turnover at midcourt, allowing Yahmad to convert and open up a 54-50 advantage and that was the difference in the game.
“Sean is the type of player that goes all out but his efforts don’t show up in the box score,” said Hunt. “Without him we don’t win this game. He shut down their leading scorer and for me he is my pick for player of the game.”
Woodland (9-7, 7-3 Brass) hosts Torrington on Friday at 7 p.m.