East Hampton certainly isn’t making it easy on themselves.
A turnover-filled first quarter put the Bellringers down early, and though they stayed within striking distance most of the game, they never struck as Haddam-Killingworth pulled away in the final quarter for a 58-40 victory in East Hampton.
With three games to go and in need of one victory to qualify for the postseason, East Hampton (7-10) seems intent on taking its tournament hopes down to the wire.
“If you told me before the game [Erik] Carlson and [Wes] Nuhn would get 25, I’d feel really good,” East Hampton coach Parker Strong said, referring to the 44 points the two combined for in the first meeting between the teams, won by H-K, 59-49. “[Colin] O’Brien did a great job. He had 18, making plays on the inside. He was a huge factor tonight.”
With a No. 1 seed in the Shoreline Conference tournament in its sight, as well as a high seed in the Class S tournament, Haddam-Killingworth (14-2) had a lot to play for, especially considering Coginchaug, Valley Regional and Cromwell are next on its schedule.
“I think this is the first time we’ve been able to win in East Hampton in, I believe, three years,” H-K coach Paul McCormick said. They’re a very good ballclub. I think [Matt] Vasquenza is a very good point guard. [Kyle] Adams is very tough on the inside. This is a game that really made us work and luckily for us we were able to get a couple of buckets down the stretch of the ballgame, getting the ball inside, then made free throws. This is just another tough Shoreline Conference road game.”
After Adams put East Hampton up 1-0 on a free throw, baskets by Nuhn and O’Brien gave the Cougars a lead they would not relinquish.
Adams scored on a nice entry pass by Nate Heroux off an inbounds play to make the score 4-3. Extended up-and-down action followed with neither team able to take advantage until H-K's Trevor Phelan finally scored on a driving layup.
The offensive drought continued for the Bellringers, who committed a series of turnovers. H-K was slow to capitalize, however, before Thomas Day drilled a three-pointer from the top of the key for a 9-3 lead with just over three minutes remaining in the quarter.
After a timeout by Strong, Jeff Pratt hit a three at the 2:33 mark to trim the deficit to 9-6, but the Cougars offense found its stride late. O’Brien and Phelan hit baskets resulting in another timeout by East Hampton, and O’Brien hit a baseline jumper in the closing seconds for a 15-6 lead.
For much of the remainder of the game, the lead drifted between 12 and four points for the Cougars, with East Hampton making several mini runs at them.
A three by Carlson to start the second quarter gave H-K an 18-6 lead, but baskets by Pratt and Spencer Daly cut it back down to 18-10. Another three by Carlson made the score 21-10 before a three by Marvin Gorgas and a basket by Adams pulled the Bellringers within 21-15. A layup by Vasquenza off a turnover late in the half made the score 25-19 heading into halftime.
A basket by Vasquenza off a nice assist from Adams got the Bellringers within 25-21 to start the third quarter, but that’s as close as they would get.
A turnaround on a nice post move by Nuhn gave H-K a 27-21 lead and a 10-footer by O'Brien made it 29-21. Again, East Hampton kept coming at the Cougars. Twice Adams brought the Bellringers within five points on baskets. Down nine, Daly hit a three to make the score 35-29. With 2:24 remaining in the quarter, however, Adams took a seat with four fouls and H-K took a 41-33 lead into the fourth quarter.
A free throw by Vasquenza made the score 41-34 with 6:28 to go in the game, but H-K had too much down the stretch.
Adams scored on a lay-in to make it 45-36, but a basket by Nuhn and two by O’Brien gave the Cougars a 51-36 lead. After that, ball control and free throws sealed the victory.
“I’ve been very pleased with the free throw shooting and the way guys are handling the ball down the stretch,” McCormick said. “When it counted, we were able to handle the ball, execute that Providence offense and catch them in a position where they had to chase us.”
After winning three straight games, East Hampton has now lost two in a row. Strong’s frustration was evident.
“We have significant trouble listening,” he said. “We have significant trouble communicating with each other and it’s costing us games. Now, H-K beat us. They’re a very good team. Well coached. They knew what to do. But, there were quite a few plays we gave them because we weren’t talking or communicating or listening to our game plan. It’s really frustrating. That’s what frustrates us the most is that we don’t listen or we don’t work together. Were not talking to each other and that’s frustrating.”
Strong also pointed to nine turnovers in the first quarter.
"It’s frustrating," he said. "We’re working hard but we’re not working together."
O'Brien led Haddam-Killingworth with 18 points. Nuhn scored 14 and Carlson had 11.
With a daunting schedule followed by the postseason, McCormick was pleased to come away with the victory, but still sees ways his team can improve for a tournament run.
“I think we need to concentrate and get all five guys rebounding,” he said. “We need to finish some of those easy opportunities we get. I think we need to rebound better and continue to even defend better. In terms of an overall performance tonight, I’m very pleased.”
Adams led East Hampton with 11 points. Pratt had 10 and Vasquenza nine.
East Hampton has a week to prepare for its next game, which will be at Coginchaug on Feb. 17. Strong did not rule out making some changes.
“Absolutely. We’ll watch the tape and we’ll make a decision,” he said. “We don’t play until Friday. We have a lot of time to work. We have a lot of time to improve.”