By VINCE PELUSO — firstname.lastname@example.org
SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP —
A lot can happen in 50 seconds of tournament basketball.
Just ask the Conneaut Spartans.
After clawing their way to back within two points of the 11th-seeded Jefferson Falcons in a Division II sectional semifinal Tuesday night at Lakeside High school, the Falcons went on a 10-0 run spanning the final five seconds of the third and first 45 of the fourth to spark a 64-58 win.
After an Amen Gerics bucket cut the Jefferson lead to 41-39 with 20 seconds remaining in the third, Jacob Hamilton hit a bank shot as time expired to give the Falcons a 43-39 lead.
Troy Bloom opened the fourth with a triple then Brett Powers made a layup and converted a three-point play to give Jefferson a 51-39 lead.
“The kids made some plays,” Falcons coach Jeremy Huber said. “Brett Powers had a couple nice drives, Troy Bloom always seems to hit a timely 3 and he hit one. The guys executed some nice plays.”
Conneaut, the 10th seed, wasn’t able to stop the bleeding until a Bud Ritari bucket with 5:57 remaining.
“We talked about that, there were two three-minute stretches that really killed us,” Spartans coach Tim Tallbacka said. “With about 30 seconds left in the third quarter we were down two and by the seven minute mark we were down (12). We put them at the line way too much. They shot the heck out of the ball from the line.”
Conneaut (8-14) stayed within striking distance after the run, though.
A Mike Mirando 3 cut the deficit to 57-51, but as happened throughout the game, it was Powers who answered right back for the Falcons (8-15) to push it back up to 8.
Powers scored a game-high 18 points to lead Jefferson.
“Brett is another guy who can score, it’s nice to see the guys want to keep playing,” Huber. “They could’ve came out and folded. Brett made some nice drives to the basket, he works on it every day and we’re starting to see it.”
Powers credited his teammate for helping give him open looks.
“I was feeling pretty good, but my teammates were finding me and giving me the ball,” he said. “It’s nice (to win). This team is probably the closest I’ve been on a basketball team, we’re real connected with each other and it’s real nice to have that team chemistry.”
Conneaut got some looks in the closing moments off Jefferson turnovers, but Tallbacka’s group wasn’t able to find the bottom of the net.
That was a recurring theme for the Spartans on the night as they were just 3 of 20 from 3 and shot just 32.3 percent (20-62) from the field.
“We were 3 of 20 from the arc and we’re a team that usually take 15-20 3s a game and if we make seven, eight, nine of them, we look pretty good,” he said. “We make two or three plus the missed free throws...
“We thought there were some defensive breakdowns, too, but that being said if we make free throws and hit some of our 3s we’re in good shape.”
Conversely, Huber’s group was efficient across the board. Jefferson shot was 21-51 from the field (41.2 percent) and 19-28 from the line.
Huber felt much of that started with the play of senior point guard Jacob Hamilton, who had an impressive floor game with 11 points and led the Falcons in rebounding with six, assists with a game-high seven and also tied for at team-lead with two steals (Powers also had two).
“I’m happy for Jacob,” Huber said. “He’s sometimes not known for his offense, but he’s practiced it all year and he’s gotten better at it at the end of the year and we’re reaping the benefits of his hard work.”
The Falcons, who have relied on the scoring of Bloom throughout much of the year, got contributions throughout the lineup as Bloom had just five points.
Sophomore Lucas Hitchcock contributed 13 while freshman Jacob Adams added 10.
“Lucas Hitchcock has played two good games in a row for us,” Huber said. “He had 14 (in a win against Edgewood) and 13 (tonight). He kind of goes under the radar, Lucas is a competitor.”
The Spartans were led in scoring by Ritari’s 18 while Dylan Campbell kicked in 14.
A final close loss to end the season was appropriate for Tallbacka, who saw his team come out on the wrong end of several close decisions in compiling an 8-14 record.
“We had a lot of close games this year,” Tallbacka said. “We lost a couple buzzer beaters, a couple overtime games, the Edgewood games we were right there with them the whole way. I just told them, that game at Badger (a 51-47 win on Friday) we made a great comeback, that’s something we can be proud of. As many close games as we lost this year to still finish that shows the character they have.”
For Jefferson, the win sets up a rematch with top-seeded Lake Catholic on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
The Falcons fell at home to the Cougars, 87-48, on Feb. 12.
“Lake Catholic’s a heck of a team,” Huber said. “We’ll go back and watch our film and get into practice (today) and come up with some game plan. The kids have a lot of pride. They could’ve packed in, but they kept getting better every day and I credit their attitudes.
“In this day and age where you need that instant gratification, they’ve kind of waited and they’re getting their gratification now.”
Powers is excited to get a second game in the tournament, something Jefferson hasn’t accomplished in his first three years.
“It’s nice because in my four years it’s the first time we’ve won a playoff game and it feels good to get that one win,” he said. “It’s gonna be a big challenge, we played them a couple weeks ago, we were hanging with them for the first half and the second half they just went off. They beat us up down low, we just gotta box out and rebound.”