WATERBURY — Winning a game at Kennedy is tough. Beating the Eagles on their home court without your top scorer and floor leader is almost impossible.
That was the situation the Naugatuck boys’ basketball team faced Tuesday night. Kennedy (4-2) defeated Naugy, 51-34, and left the Greyhounds (0-6) still searching for their first victory of the season.
Warren Buerkle, Naugatuck’s top scorer and only returning player with significant varsity experience, went down with an apparent ankle injury with 4:12 left in the second quarter. Entering the game, Buerkle had averaged 14.8 points per game.
As the game progressed, it was clear that Naugy missed its senior guard to help control the game.
“It hurts the team with what they’re used to in the flow of the game,” Naugatuck head coach Kevin Wesche said. “On the other hand, it’s also an opportunity for other kids to step up and prove that they’re as good and contribute just as much to the team. We didn’t get that from anybody to step up and fill [Buerkle’s] shoes.”
Until that point, the Greyhounds battled to keep the game close, as both teams ran patient offensive schemes that took 20 to 30 seconds off the clock each possession. A Tyler Krupa bucket brought Naugy within two, 15-13, with 5:25 left in the second.
The Eagles used a quick-hitting 7-0 run over a 90-second span in the second quarter to take a 22-15 lead at the half.
Kennedy picked up the pace in the third quarter, opening the second half with pressure defense and tenacious rebounding. Within the first two minutes of the third quarter, Kennedy had posted another 7-0 run before Naugy’s Matt Zahornasky snapped the spurt with a jumper.
“Once Warren was out of there, the kids were a little shook at first,” Wesche said. “And we didn’t have proper spacing on the court offensively, and it made it easier for Kennedy to trap.”
“They came out with that double-team, and we had trouble handling it,” Krupa said.
On defense, Wesche said Naugatuck allowed too much penetration and too many second-chance efforts. Kennedy took advantage.
The Eagles continued their second-half run, thanks to the efforts of Jefferson Germosen (23 points) and Denzel Sanders (12 points), who combined for 13 in the third quarter. After the Zahornasky basket, Sanders made a jumper, and Germosen drained a three to give Kennedy a 34-17 lead.
Though trailing by 17, Naugy refused to quit. Down 38-21, the Hounds scored the next six points on hoops by Cristian Nuenez, Shawn Freeney and Tyler Conklin, whose basket with 7:38 left in the fourth brought Naugy within 38-27.
But Naugatuck could not get closer. Kennedy’s Devon Petty drove straight to the hoop after the Conklin bucket, drew a foul and scored to squash what little momentum the Greyhounds had captured.
Despite six straight defeats to open the season, Krupa said the loss to Kennedy is a valuable lesson.
“Anybody can go down,” Krupa said. “You have to be prepared to do anything you can when anybody is not in there.”