NORWALK — With Bridgeport schools closed all of last week in the wake of the historic snowstorm, the Central boys basketball team hasn’t had an opportunity to practice. The rust showed early versus Norwalk as the Hilltoppers fell behind by 13 points on Saturday.
“(Norwalk) came out a little juiced up. They’re playing at home. They were ready,” Bridgeport Central head coach Barry McLeod said. “They jumped on us quick, which I hoped wouldn’t happen.”
But the Hilltoppers jumped right back in the second half. A full-court press produced numerous easy baskets for McLeod’s team, while Norwalk went cold for long stretches from the field, including several missed layups. None was more costly than a miss by Roy Kane Jr. with just over 5 seconds left in the game, an opportunity that would have tied the score 61-61. Instead the Hilltoppers escaped with a 63-59 victory.
“We’re lucky to win,” McLeod said. “(Norwalk) is a good team.”
Central raised its record to 12-4 and Norwalk dropped to 11-5.
Norwalk dominated the early going, capitalizing on the size of the 6-foot-5 Kane and the 6-5 Saeed Soulemane to convert several putbacks and take a 14-1 lead. Central could get nothing going on offense, managing only two free throws from Antwan Pettway through the first 5:24 of the game.
Orhan Cecunjanin scored the Hilltoppers’ first field goal on a 3-pointer to make it 14-5, and then Marcus Blackwell (game-high 22 points) broke into the scoring column to make 14-7. He was just getting warmed up.
“We knew Blackwell was going to be a good player,” Norwalk coach Tom Keyes said. “He had a couple nice foul-line jumpers on us, and he also finished a couple of plays with layups.”
After baskets by Norwalk’s Nick Boccanfuso and Jabari Dear gave Norwalk a 31-18 lead with 4:17 left in the second quarter, Central called timeout and switched up personnel. McLeod subbed sophomore Dondre Daniels for point guard Tyler Ancrum in an effort to spark his team.
“(Ancrum) looked like he was a little out of sync, made some turnovers that were uncharacteristic of him,” McLeod said. “(Daniels) came in there and settled us down. Might have saved the game for us, even though it was only the second quarter. Kept it from getting out of hand.”
Daniels quickly scored six points as Central went on a 10-0 run and closed the deficit to three points. But Norwalk responded with its own mini-run of five points to end the quarter and led 36-28 at the half.
Central started the second half on a 9-2 run as Norwalk struggled to handle the Hilltoppers’ press.
“I think our pressure got us back in the game,” McLeod said. “It got the tempo moving in the direction we wanted it to. It created some opportunities for us in the open court because their size was giving us a little problem. When they’re in that zone and they’re getting settled in, we were having some problems. We had to get in the open court where we’re at our best and get some free shots.”
Norwalk, meanwhile, struggled on offense and only scored eight points in the third quarter.
“We got a little passive and we didn’t attack,” Keyes said. “Against a team like Central, you have to play four quarters. Maybe against some other teams in the league that would have been a good enough effort.”
The Bears led by 3 points, 44-41, entering the fourth quarter. But Central soon went on a 10-0 run. Ancrum hit two consecutive 3-pointers to give Central its first lead of the game, 47-46, with 6:37 left. And Blackwell followed up with two baskets to give Central a 5-point cushion.
Late in the game, Kane hit a 3-pointer to bring Norwalk to within 2 points, 61-59. Central turned the ball over on the ensuing possession, and Norwalk had an opportunity to tie the game when Kane came down with a rebound and had a point-blank opportunity as time wound down. But he missed the contested layup.
“Roy had a nice rebound, he had a nice look and it didn’t go his way,” Keyes said.
Central 63, Norwalk 59
Orhan Cecunjanin 4 0-0 9 Shaquan Bretoux 2 2-4 6 Antwan Pettway 0 2-4 2 Marcus Blackwell 10 2-3 22 Tyler Ancrum 5 2-2 15 Dondre Daniels 3 1-2 8 Ricky Grant 0 1-2 1 Totals: 24 10-17 63
CENTRAL 13 15 13 22 – 63
NORWALK 21 15 8 15 – 59
Three-pointers: C- Tyler Ancrum 3, Deandre Daniels, Orhan Cecunjanin M – Roy Kane Jr. 2, Jabari Dear 2, Jeremy Linton