Naugy rolling after slow start

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Naugatuck’s Brandon Kuczenski scores two of his game high 19 points last Friday night in Ansonia. Kuczenski added eight rebounds and three blocks. Naugatuck won 56-35 to pull within one win of heading back to the state tournament. -KEN MORSE

ANSONIA — The Naugatuck boys basketball team is playing with a whole lot of confidence these days, making the ‘Hounds a dangerous team heading down the stretch.

Saddled with a 2-5 record after the first seven games and the prospect of another dismal season, Naugy has turned things around in a hurry.

Last Friday in Ansonia, the Greyhounds raced up and down the court to their fifth straight win, dismantling the Charger, 56-35. The win pushed Naugy’s record to 7-5, one game away from qualifying for the state tournament.

There were signs earlier in the season that this was not the same team as last year’s 3-17 squad. There was a heart-breaking, 61-59 loss to Holy Cross and a cliff-hanging, 69-68 loss to Crosby.

Then Naugatuck earned its signature win of the season when it knocked off the 10-2 Watertown Indians. Along the way, the ‘Hounds have assembled a formidable unit.

Four double-digit scorers spread the damage, led by Mick Pernell (14.4 points per game), Brandon Kuczenski (11.3 ppg), Gabe Pulliam (10.2 ppg) and Husani Foote (10.5 ppg). Senior forward Adam Neveski (4.7 ppg) has recently been strong from 3-point range to give the ‘Hounds a solid starting five on the brink of reaching the state tournament.

“That has been our goal coming into this season: Trying to make the NVL tournament and get back to states,” Kuczenski said. “We have put in a lot of hard work and have renewed our effort on the defensive end. That has led to this turnaround as we are playing as a team.”

Last Friday, it was all Kuczenski in the first period against Ansonia as he scored all 10 of the Greyhounds’ points in the quarter as Naugatuck took a 10-5 lead.

If Ansonia had any notion of getting back in this game, it was quickly laid to rest. Nolan Kinne dove to the floor for loose balls while Zac Mercer scored on the baseline as Naugatuck outscored Ansonia, 9-3, to close the second and stretch a 15-10 advantage into a comfortable 24-13 cushion at the break.

Pernell (16 points, four 3-pointers, four assists) and Gabe Pulliam (12 points, nine assists) went back and forth assaulting the Chargers with long-range shots. Neveski (four assists) steered the action in the low post and Charles McClain (two blocks) manned up on defense as Naugatuck started to pull away in the third period.

Foote added the thunder to the house with a two-handed dunk that brought the Naugatuck fans in attendance to their feet, putting the ‘Hounds safely out in front 41-25 entering the final period.

“We are playing team defense now and we have guys coming in to help out,” Foote said. “It’s not any one player. It’s the whole team and the results are showing up on the scoreboard.”

Pulliam started the fourth period with a rainbow 3-pointer from way downtown. Kuczenski (19 points, eight rebounds, three blocks) put the finishing touches on his team-leading effort with a turnaround jumper in the lane with 6:07 to play to open up a 48-28 advantage.

Coach Mike Wilson went to the bench and brought on Nate Franklin, Jason Bradley, Bryan Coney and Ryne Griesenauer to finish off the Chargers.

Naugatuck squandered its first chance to qualify for the state tournament on Tuesday with a 62-49 loss at St. Paul. The Greyhounds will have another chance to earn their eighth victory on Friday night at home against Derby.