NAUGATUCK — At the start of the boys basketball season no one really gave the Greyhounds much of a thought. Now, entering the second half of the season, Naugatuck is right in the thick of things in the Naugatuck Valley League.
Looking at the top of the league standings through Tuesday, Sacred Heart is at 8-0 (8-2 overall) Holy Cross is at 9-1 (10-1 overall), Waterbury Career is at 8-1 (9-1 overall), and surprisingly there are the Greyhounds at 8-2 in the NVL and 8-2 overall.
The Greyhounds qualified for the state tournament on Tuesday by pulling out a white-knuckle affair in T-town and beating the Raiders, 49-46, in an Iron Division battle. Both teams came in with a 3-0 division mark and the division leader gets an automatic bid to the NVL tournament.
Naugatuck trailed Torrington 29-27 at the half but outscored the Raiders 22-17 in the second half.
Jean Lukau, who left the game in the fourth to tend to a cut that happened after he was hit in his eye, led Naugatuck with 26 points, nine rebounds and five steals.
The Greyhounds are hardly a one-man show, as head coach Mike Wilson is quick to point out. It’s everyone doing the little things and making the big plays along the way to make it happen.
“We have developed a good eight core rotation and they are all contributing and making plays,” Wilson said. “We are not playing a one-man show. That is not what Naugatuck basketball is all about. It’s going to take everyone playing to the best of our ability to win in this league.”
Jesse Lanci had nine points against Torrington and Derrick Jagello added six points. Latrel Deveaux scored his only two buckets in the final minutes to hold off the Raiders.
Since their last loss, an 82-63 setback at the hands of Crosby on Jan. 10, the Greyhounds have won four straight behind a defense that allowed 47.5 points per game over that stretch.
It took a sturdy defensive effort to get past Seymour, 62-52, last Friday.
“On the defensive end we made it uncomfortable for them and that will win you games,” Wilson said. “We feel if we can keep teams in that 40, 50 point range we will give ourselves an opportunity to succeed.”
Lukau had his usual all-around game, leading the way with 26 points, six rebounds and four assists against Seymour.
Seymour got out to a quick 8-4 lead three minutes into the game. Then Wilson began to shuffle players in and out of the lineup, and the tide turned.
Deveaux (8 points, 10 rebounds) began to make his presence felt underneath, and when he threw in a put-back Naugy took an 11-10 lead with 2:46 to go in the first quarter.
The ‘Hounds ended the quarter by outscoring Seymour 13-5 to take a 17-13 lead into the second stanza.
It was much of the same for the Greyhounds in the second quarter, as players came off the bench and immediately made big plays.
Jaden Bennett tore down a rebound, came down the floor and buried a 3-pointer, before racing down the other end to block a shot. While Seymour was busy trying to figure out a fix for Bennett, Lukau took advantage and hit back-to-back 3-pointers to open up a double-digit lead at 26-15.
Seymour was still playing intense basketball, but there was a little stutter in the Wildcats’ step.
Elijah Robinson (8 points) showed all the confidence in the world as he charged through the lane, made a 360 spin move to shed the defender and threw in an underhand shot off the glass to open up a 32-19 advantage.
The Wildcats forced three straight turnovers in the third and cut Naugatuck’s 34-24 halftime lead to 40-37 with 3:57 to go in the quarter.
The ‘Hounds ramped it up again, though, as Robinson fed Lukau for an alley-oop dunk. Naugy took a 48-39 advantage into the final quarter after Jayden Anderson fought for position under the basket and threw down a put-back.
Seymour got to within five points of the lead with 3:03 to play. Jesse Lanci hit a jumper in the lane and Derrick Jagello (9 points) converted a pair at the line to stretch the lead to 56-47.
The Wildcats were out of gas at that point, and Naugy took win number seven into the locker room.
Naugy closes out the week at Derby on Friday before and a showdown with Sacred Heart on Tuesday at Alumni Hall in Waterbury.