UNCASVILLE — There was record attendance over the weekend at the Mohegan Sun Arena for the CIAC’s basketball championships. Helping to set that mark were the tons of Naugy fans that came out to support the No. 7-seeded Greyhounds in the Class L championship game against No. 5 Bunnell.
Naugy fans came out to support their ‘Hounds, who were in the state final for the first time since 1974, when the great Bob Sullivan’s team lost to South Catholic of Hartford, 71-57.
The fans witnessed a very good first half, but it was a lopsided second half where Bunnell outscored Naugatuck by nine. The Bulldogs beat Naugy, 72-61, to capture their first state title and end a magical run for the Greyhounds.
The clincher for the Bulldogs (21-4) came with 1:24 left in the game. Ryan Pittman grabbed a rebound and passed it up-court to a wide open Aaron Samuel for a fast break layup and a 67-54 lead.
“I feel like their transition hurt us tonight,” said Naugy head coach Mike Wilson in his postgame interview. “We let them get out and run a little bit and that killed us.”
The Naugy head coach was spot on. Bunnell outscored Naugy 30-8 on fast-break points, many of those points coming in the final quarter, when the Bulldogs were able to break the Greyhounds’ full-court press.
Things were looking good for the ‘Hounds (21-6) in the first quarter. Jarron Chapman, Naugy’s leading scorer on the season, jumped off to a quick six points and the Greyhounds led 18-13 after one. Naugy made three 3s, two from Jason Bradley and one from Dayvon Russell, to seize the early lead.
However, Wilson’s squad, which has lit it up from three all tournament long, would not see another shot go in from behind the arc for the rest of the game.
The second quarter told a completely different story. The Greyhounds started to get sloppy. Naugy had eight turnovers by halftime. Those turnovers, according to Wilson, led to easy baskets for Bunnell.
“They got easier hoops and that gave them confidence,” Wilson said. “Instead of us making them work in their half-court offense, we gave them easy baskets.”
Naugatuck’s first field goal in the second quarter didn’t come until there was 3:28 left in the period, and only two more baskets followed. Chapman scored all three hoops in the quarter.
By the end of the first half, Bunnell was beating Naugy in its own game and led the Greyhounds 26-24 at the break.
All season long, Naugy’s offense was to attack the inside and occasionally kick the ball out for a jump shot. However, by halftime, Bunnell was outscoring the Greyhounds 20-14 in the paint. Chapman’s shot was blocked four times and the ‘Hounds could not convert on second-chance opportunities. They were outscored 9-2 in second-chance points, despite having just one less offensive rebound than Bunnell.
Russell, after the game, said his team had no intentions of shying away from the normal game plan, however.
“We tried to stick to Naugy basketball,” said Rusell, who finished with nine points on 2-of-10 shooting. “We kept trying to get the ball in to the paint. Everyone was doing a great job.”
Despite their woes in the second quarter, the Greyhounds only found themselves down by two at half.
In the third quarter, the ‘Hounds stuck with Naugy basketball. They outscored Bunnell 12-8 in the paint and did a better job protecting the basketball, only committing two turnovers.
Despite the improvements, the Bulldogs still held a 44-39 lead after three quarters due to their continued domination on the fast break and second-chance opportunities.
That five-point lead never shortened for Bunnell in the fourth quarter. Naugy kept it close for the first 4:30 of the final period, but could never get on a run to erase the deficit.
Bunnell scored 14 fast-break points alone in the fourth quarter, including the dagger by Samuel, which increased their lead in the final three minutes.
Chapman tried to bring his team back, scoring 11 points in the quarter, but Bunnell kept a good eye on him and made him shoot just 3-of-8 in the period. Chapman finished the game with 28 points on 10-of-28 shooting.
Chapman was the only Naugy player to score in double figures. Bunnell had three players reach double figures, Samuel with 21, Donte Peeler with 17 and Pittman with 12. Peeler also added eight rebounds for the Bulldogs.
While it was a tough loss, Wilson appreciated all of the support the team received from the hometown fans at The Sun on Sunday.
“To look up there and see all of the friendly faces and all of the supporting fans from the town. It is something that these boys will carry with them for the rest of their lives,” said Wilson, who competed in the states at Naugy as a player in the late ‘90s, but never made it past the quarterfinals. “I did get a chance to soak it all in.”