BRISTOL - There was no question the Bristol Central boys basketball team was going to be tested against No. 1-ranked East Catholic in the semifinals of the CCC Tournament.
The Rams came out strong defensively, though, holding a team that averages 76 points per game to just 31 points in the first half.
But it didn’t last, as the Eagles used a huge second half offensively to run away with a 74-40 victory over Bristol Central on Tuesday night.
“We weren’t afraid of them,” Rams head coach Tim Barrette said. “I’m proud of my guys. In the first half we didn’t back down. We fought with them tooth and nail for that first half. Their talent just won out in the second half.”
Bristol Central held Eagles star sophomore Trey Hall to 10 points in the game, often making him uncomfortable on offense.
East Catholic, however, used its other primary scorer to its advantage as Matt Veretto had a game-high 29 points, flashing a strong mid-range game, 3-point shooting ability and the occasional basket down low.
The Eagles scored just 10 points in the first five minutes of the game.
Veretto was dominant to open the contest, scoring the Eagles’ first seven points.
Inconsistencies plagued the Rams’ offense, as they struggled to attack the zone defense implemented by East Catholic.
Noah Plantamuro hit a corner three early on in the game, but only attempted two long-range shots, and his lack of scoring on the night was big as he typically generates an offensive spark.
Jaekwon Spencer did his part offensively and at times he got help from Alex Bernier and Dathan Hickey. Both Bernier and Hickey had their moments. Hickey sparked a 3-0 run with a layup followed up by a steal that he took to the basket and drew a shooting foul, hitting one of two from the line.
Bernier had a nice euro step to the basket in the first quarter and in the second scored three points in a row, a jumper falling away from the basket and the other a foul shot he knocked down.
Coming into the second half down just seven points, Bristol Central was in the game, it just needed to continue playing defense and pick up its offense.
Neither happened, though, as East Catholic got off to a 14-3 run to begin the second half. Veretto set the tone that it was the Eagles’ half, as he threw down an alley-oop dunk on a nice assist by former Rams player Jamil Hornesby.
“Those first four minutes were really big,” Hickey said. “We had to start out strong and show them that we weren’t going to go away, but we can’t let them hit 3-pointers and not come back and score on the other end. We gave them the upper hand they needed to run away.”
The Eagles didn’t slow down, as they controlled the entire second half.
“I told them going into the fourth quarter that we’re not going to play a better team in the entire state,” Barrette said. “You’re not going to see a team in Division II that’s this good, so if you can run an offense and execute against a team like this, then you’re in good shape for the state tournament.”
Spencer led the Rams in scoring with 15 points. Bernier and Alex Lape each had five points.
The Rams’ Ryan Rodriguez showed some fight with six points, all coming in the final quarter.
Now, the Division II tournament awaits the Rams. The loss to the top-ranked team in the state could motivate Bristol Central to go on a deep run.
“I think it was a positive,” Lape said. “Obviously, we lost and we don’t take losses lightly, but it will fuel us to play better. Being in the game in the beginning shows us that we can compete with top teams and it will drive us to keep competing going forward.”