Pictured: Middletown’s Nasir McDaniel drives the baseline as Donovan Clingan defends in the second quarter of Tuesday’s CCC game at LaBella-Sullivan Gymnasium. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

By Paul Augeri

MIDDLETOWN – Despite losing to Bristol Central by 30 points earlier this season, and despite the cruel blow of not having 6-foot-8 senior center Elijah Wilborn available due to injury, Middletown thought it had the right plan to keep it close against top-ranked Bristol Central on Tuesday night.

“I was preaching to the kids all week, one-minute possessions, two-minute possessions, drive and kick, drive and kick, slow the ball down. Do this, do that,” Blue Dragons coach Eric Holley said.

“And we came out and did the complete opposite,” he said.

Middletown tried to run up and down and around the Rams and their 7-2 center, UConn-bound Donovan Clingan, and it backfired. Badly.

Donovan Clingan gets position in the low post while being held by Middletown’s Justice Freeman. Clingan scored 32 points in Bristol Central’s 80-34 win. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

Bristol Central blew out to a 21-6 lead after one quarter, extended its advantage to 30 by halftime, and that was that. Clingan finished with 32 points, 16 rebounds and three blocked shot as the unbeaten Rams won for the 18th time this season, 80-32 at LaBella-Sullivan Gymnasium.

“We came out, we took quick shots, we just didn’t listen. We didn’t stay disciplined,” said Holley, whose Middletown squad lost its second straight without Wilborn (left ankle sprain). “There was a lot of stuff that we didn’t do. I’m not sure if we did it that it would have won us the game, but perhaps it keeps you a little closer. We were going to slow the game down, and if we slow the game down, we would stop them from scoring as much. And we didn’t do it. It’s like we got out here and lost our minds.”

Without Wilborn to put a body on Clingan, Middletown tried every which way to move the Rams’ workhorse off the post end and make it difficult for him to receive the ball cleanly. Instead, the fouls piled up. The Blue Dragons committed their 10th team foul before the first quarter was over. By that time, Bristol Central was ahead 18-6 and firmly in control.

“We tried everything. We threw everybody at him,” Holley said. “We had four or five kids with three or four fouls. But the one thing they did is they continued to fight, they played hard. That’s the No. 1 team in the state. We may end up playing them three or four times (between the CCC and CIAC Division II tournaments).”

For his part, Clingan kept his poise and stuck to his low-post plan of catch and shoot. He dunked three times in the game.

“I didn’t experience this much until recently,” said Clingan, who went to the free-throw line 12 times in the first half. “They were scouting us against Berlin (on Saturday). Berlin did a lot of holding the ball and fouling and trying to get me out of the paint. I felt like (Middletown) tried to use that strategy, too. I’m so used to it. It just keeps on happening. I just keep working to get better and do what I can to score and count on others to help the team.”

Donovan Clingan throws down one of his three dunks during a 32-point night against Middletown. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

Carson Rivoira contributed 15 points for Bristol Central and Victor Rosa scored eight. Nasir McDaniel led Middletown (11-6) with nine points.

“I was really nervous coming in here, to be honest,” Bristol Central coach Tim Barrette said. “This is not the easiest place for my guys to play in. With that being said, Middletown is better than the score tonight. We both know that. Without Eli in the middle for them tonight, obviously it’s a very difficult night for them with our big guy coming in.”

Clingan scored the Rams’ last six points of the first quarter, finishing with 13 in the period as they began to pull away. Middletown struggled to hit shots and was unable to mount any kind of run in the second quarter, scoring just 16 points in the half.

“A lot of guys have now tried to slow down the pace against us, so we really have to be ultra-efficient in the first four minutes of the game,” Barrette said. “Obviously, when you have the horse that we have, you try to get him the ball as many times as you can and we did a really good job of that tonight, especially early on. You’re not going to win the game if you hold the ball. When we allow teams to get up on us, then they start taking a minute possession, and that’s a lot of chasing we don’t want to do.”

The Rams hit Middletown with a 22-5 run in the second quarter to go up 43-11, with nine points coming from Clingan and five from Rivoira, while the team’s defense continued to not give an inch to the Blue Dragons.

“Everyone stepped up well,” Clingan said. “Our defense was immaculate today and we hit open shots. I couldn’t be prouder of my team.”

Middletown expects to have Wilborn, who got hurt in a win over Maloney last week,  available for either Friday’s game at Southington or Saturday’s game at West Haven.

“We have to keep fighting and staying at it, but it’s hard to replace 20 (points) and 15 (rebounds),” Holley said.

Victor Rosa 4 0-0 8, Damian Glasper 1 1-2 4, Steve Alseph 1 0-0 2, Carson Rivoira 5 3-4 15, Donovan Clingan 12 8-14 32, Zach Vanesse 2 0-0 6, Jayson Dominguez 1 0-0 2, Mike Allan 0 0-0 0, Aaron Brown 2 0-0 4, Julius Powell 1 0-0 2, Jonmanuel Gomez 0 0-0 0, Jayeson Van Beveren0 0-0 0. Totals: 31 13-22 80.

Chace Petgrave 0 0-0 0, Matt Steuerwald 0 1-2 1, Tim Vaughters 3 1-2 7, Omar Gutierrez 1 0-0 2, Marshall Butler 2 0-0 4, Nasir McDaniel 4 1-2 9, Quadir Murphy 1 0-2 2, Caiden Byrd 1 0-0 3, Adison Brown 2 0-2 5, Justice Freeman 0 0-0 0, Brandon Torres 0 1-2 1, Quincy Rhodes 0 0-0 0, Dariyon Drake 0 0-0 0, Teejay Jackson 0 0-0 0. Totals: 14 4-12 34.

Score By Quarters
Bristol Central….21 25 20 14–80
Middletown……….6 10 13   5–34

3-pointers: Bristol Central–Rivoria 2, Vanesse 2, Glasper 1; Middletown–Byrd 1, Brown 1.

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