Pictured: Middletown’s Jonathan Nkonoki goes behind his back in an attempt to get around Glastonbury defender Dennis Thomas in the first half.
By Marc Silvestrini
MIDDLETOWN — Glastonbury High’s boys basketball team rode a patient, opportunistic offense, solid rebounding — especially at the defensive end — and a series of clutch free throws in the final minutes to record a 62-55 CCC victory over Middletown on Thursday night.
The gritty Blue Dragons trailed by eight early in the fourth quarter, but a four-point outburst by Donte Pope and two straight putbacks from underneath by Mekhi Toler enabled the Blue Dragons to outscore the Tomahawks 8-2 over the next two minutes. The run rallied them back to 53-51 with just under four minutes to play.
Glastonbury sealed the victory by getting two consecutive clutch buckets from Dennis Thomas and Tate Kuiper to extend its lead to 57-51 with 1:10 remaining, and by hitting 5 of 6 free throws in the final minute to thwart any hope of a Middletown comeback.
The loss to their cross-division CCC rival drops Middletown’s record to 5-2 on the season and 4-2 in the CCC. Glastonbury improves to 6-2 overall and 5-1 in conference play.
“They’re a tough team and we knew it would be no picnic coming in here and walking out with a win,” said Glastonbury coach Jim Vaughan, a 1989 Middletown High graduate. “We couldn’t put them away. They kept coming back at us, but we did enough good things to get the job done.”
Vaughan added that he thought his three starting senior guards – Thomas, Dave Tosatti and Quinn O’Connor – played exceptional games.
“I thought those guys played with a great deal of poise and confidence tonight and were a big part of the reason why we won,” he said.
The two teams battled through six lead changes in a tight, hard-fought first quarter.
A drive by Middletown’s Jonathan Nkonoki gave Middletown what would turn out to be its biggest lead of the night at 7-4 with just under six minutes to play in the quarter, but a short jumper by Thomas and a pair of long 3-point bombs by Kuiper and Tosatti fueled an 8-2 run that allowed Glastonbury to reclaim the lead at 12-9.
Glastonbury extended its lead to five at 16-11 with less than two minutes to play in the quarter before an Nkonoki free throw and a layup by Pope enabled the Dragons to close to within 16-14 at the end of the first quarter.
Layups by Toler and Pope – off a feed from Elijah Wilborn – enabled the Dragons to jump out to an 18-17 lead over the first two minutes of the second quarter. From there, the Tomahawks launched an 11-2 spurt to grab an eight-point lead, 28-20, with two and a half minutes to play in the half.
The Dragons, however, responded by scoring the final six points of the half on two Pope free throws, a bucket from underneath by freshman Richard Rivers and a length of the court, buzzer-beating drive by Matt Steuerwald to close to within two, 28-26, at halftime.
Glastonbury outscored Middletown 14-8 over the first five minutes of the third quarter to push its lead back to eight, 42-34, before a deep three by Steuerwald, a Pope bucket from underneath off a pretty feed from Steuerwald, and a runner by Nkonoki helped the Dragons to cut the deficit to 44-41 with 35 seconds left in the quarter.
A deep three by Kuiper in the final seconds made it 47-41, Glastonbury, after three quarters of play.
“I was disappointed in our defense. We just gave them way too many easy shots,” Middletown coach Rick Privott said. “We didn’t move our feet very well and we didn’t get in good position to help each other out.”
Privott also said he thought his team needed to do a better job on the boards at both ends of the floor.
“(Glastonbury) is a good, seasoned team,” he said. “They outworked us in certain areas, they moved the ball extremely well on offense and they were patient. They’re very well-coached.”
“As for us,” he added, “we have to go back to the drawing board. We have a lot of things we have to work on, especially if we want to beat some of the better teams on our schedule.”
Pope paced the Blue Dragons with 18 points, while Steuerwald added 12 and Nkonoki chipped in with 9.
Tosatti and Thomas each had 15 for the Tomahawks while O’Connor had 12, including nine free throws, and Kuiper netted 10.
The Blue Dragons are off until Monday, when they travel to Hartford for a 2 p.m. game against Bulkeley.
Glastonbury 62, Middletown 55
David Tosatti 5 3 15, Quinn O’Connor 1 9 12, Dennis Thomas 6 3 15, Thomas Shea 4 0 8, Tate Kuiper 4 0 10, Grayson Twombly 0 2 2, Amir Johnson 0 0 0. Totals: 20 17 62.
Matt Steuerwald 5 0 12, Makhi Toler 3 0 6, Ken Fountain 3 0 6, Jonathan Nkonoki 3 3 9, Donte Pope 5 8 18, Elijah Wilborn 1 0 2, Ray McKeithen 0 0 0, Erin Strong 0 0 0, Richard Rivers 1 0 2. Totals: 21 11 55.
Score By Quarters
3-Pointers: G—Tosatti 2, Kuiper 2, O’Connor 1; M— Steuerwald 2.
Records: Glastonbury 6-2, 5-1; Middletown 5-2, 4-2.