WATERBURY — It was another instance of the Naugatuck boys basketball team being oh-so-close to winning, and it was another instance of the Hounds just falling short.
Sacred Heart’s Eddie Rivera forced overtime with a layup in the final 10 seconds of regulation before the Hearts escaped with a 54-53 win at Alumni Hall Tuesday night in Waterbury.
“It’s tough to put grips on it right now,” Naugatuck coach Mike Wilson said. “It’s just another one that we let out of our hands—another frustrating one that I feel we just didn’t make plays down at the end of the game. We’ve got to develop winning habits. Sacred Heart made a run and made plays at the end down there.”
The Greyhounds (3-16) trailed by three in the closing seconds of overtime, but Mick Pernell’s 3-point try clanged off the rim. Tyler Conklin made the put-back, but it pulled Naugatuck one point short with no time left.
Adam Neveski helped rally Naugy from a 52-48 deficit with 1:37 left as he hit three free throws before the Hearts (4-16) re-extended the lead to three with a pair of foul shots.
The game needed the extra period after a neck-and-neck fourth quarter. The teams swapped leads and ties throughout the final 3:30 of the period. Dan Branco gave Naugy a 48-46 lead in the final minute after a pair of free throws, but Rivera knocked home a layup to send the game to overtime.
“Back and forth,” Wilson said of how the game developed in the fourth quarter and overtime, “I think both teams were making plays down at the end of the game. It was a battle, a classic NVL game in which it seemed like the last person with the ball was going to win. Unfortunately, we didn’t make our shot down at the end there.”
Naugatuck led throughout the second and third quarters. The Hounds took the lead in the second with a 7-0 run to start the quarter and make it a 14-8 lead after they trailed, 8-7, after the first. Neveski and Brandon Kuczenski were forceful on defense and managed a number of offensive rebounds. Naugy led, 24-16, at the half.
The Greyhounds maintained their lead through the third quarter with strong defense and were up, 35-28, heading into the fourth.
Despite the outcome of this one, Wilson was pleased with his team’s intensity throughout the game.
“It’s about us developing when it happens now and getting comfortable in close games, making a different play than we made earlier in the year,” Wilson said. “We’re getting it, we’re closing in on it. Right now I feel that the ball didn’t bounce our way. I told them I’m proud of them.
“We played really hard tonight and after the last two losses, last week, I thought we weren’t playing hard and I got nervous that we were going to start slipping. But we took big steps again tonight and we played hard all night.”
Kuczenski scored a game-high 27 points while Pernell followed with 12. Jenel Ellison led Sacred Heart with 16 points while David Plaza contributed 13.
Wilson said he hopes the Greyhounds put it together for one last time Thursday night when they host Watertown on senior night at 7 p.m.