NAUGATUCK — The Greyhounds nearly dug themselves out of a 20-point deficit twice against the Wilby Wildcats but couldn’t get over the hump as they fell by a 74-64 margin on Tuesday in front of a large hometown crowd at the Hound Pound.
Naugatuck had their hands full taking on the Wildcats, 4-0, who came in sporting an offense that has averaged 81 points per game. The Greyhounds, 2-2, came in on a two game winning streak, and possessed a suffocating defense which has been holding opponents to just 48 points per game for the season.
Naugatuck would need every bit of defensive muscle to stay with Wilby, but the Cats ran the floor at will in the opening period and quickly overcame a 4-0 deficit with an explosive 18-0 run.
Walter Wright (19 points) sparked the run for Wilby with four steals, accounting for more than half of Naugatuck’s seven turnovers in the first period. The Wildcats were safely out in front by a 25-11 margin heading into the second period.
“We have to come out ready to play,” Naugatuck head coach Mike Wilson said. “We didn’t do that in the opening period and that dictated the rest of the game.”
Naugatuck outscored Wilby 53-49 after the first period but the Wildcats’ initial onslaught was too much to overcome.
“I’m so proud of the way the kids fought back and made a game of it. But we have to stop thinking we can compete with these teams and go out and do it,” Wilson said.
The opening of the second stanza looked very much like the first as Wilby exploded with a 6-0 run and the Hounds were staring down the barrel of a 20-point deficit at 31-11.
The Greyhounds began to claw back as Charles McClain and Zac Mercer came off the bench to help Naugatuck control the boards, leaving Adam Neveski to man up on the Wilby pursuit down the lane.
Gabe Pulliam (16 points, eight assists) dished off to Mick Pernell (17 points) in the corner and his rainbow three stopped the bleeding.
Brandon Kuczenski (17 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks) went hard to the rack for two and Pulliam pulled up with a scoop shot followed by Neveski taking it down the lane.
Naugatuck’s push forced a Wilby timeout as the Hounds had cut the gap to 33-20, and the Cats had a game on their hands. Coming out of the timeout, Pulliam continued his onslaught hitting a turnaround jumper in the lane and a three from the corner.
By the time the teams headed to the locker room at the half Naugatuck cut the deficit in half to 37-27 behind a defensive effort that held Wilby to just 12 points in the second period.
Wilby came out and fired away in the third period with Michael Omagbon (25 points) and Marcus Robinson (16 points) doing a lot of the damage. The Wildcats were threatening to blow the game open holding a commanding 56-33 lead with two and a half minutes remaining in the third period.
Then Naugatuck got aggressive. Mercer ripped down a couple of boards and Husani Foote (11 points, nine rebounds) scored on back-to-back possessions. The Hounds were back to within 57-43 heading into the final period.
Five times in the game Wilby went on runs of 6-0 or better. But the Hounds stiffened up on defensive in the first four minutes of the final period holding Wilby to just five points to open the final frame.
“There were times that we played defense,” Wilson said. “But they had so many 6-0 runs it just killed us. We need to start realizing that every possession is important. We can’t give up cheap runs and try to stay in the game by trading baskets.”
Nolan Kinne came on and started to dive to the floor for loose balls. Kinne stole a ball in the middle and got it to Pulliam who sent a coast-to-coast pass down the floor to Foote, who finished with a thunderous dunk.
The Naugatuck fans erupted and with 6:03 to go the Hounds showed some signs of life trailing 61-45. On the next possession Kinne dished it to Kuczenski at the top of the key and the 15-foot jumper rippled the net.
Pernell hit both ends of a one-and-one free throw and then stole the inbounds pass putting it in off the window. The Greyhounds’ run forced Wilby to call a timeout with 1:57 to play and the Wildcats clinging to a 66-59 lead.
The Cats responded with another five-point run before Jason Bradley threw an inbound pass to Kuczenski in the lane for a jumper that cut the lead again at 71-61 with under a minute left.
Wilby finished the game off at the free throw line as Naugatuck didn’t get closer than 10 down the stretch.
Naugatuck will be back in action on Thursday when they host Pomperaug. Next week will find the Hounds at Crosby on Tuesday and then they host Torrington on Friday.