NORTH HAVEN - Throughout its Division II state tournament semifinal matchup against No. 2 Glastonbury on Tuesday night, the New Britain boys basketball team was thoroughly undersized, but never overmatched.
Battling against a pair of towering Warriors forwards in Tom and Jack Shea, who combined for 27 of Glastonbury’s 53 points, the Hurricanes found a way to squeeze out a thrilling 56-53 win and advance to the state final.
With its prime rim protector in Shamah Charles forced to the bench after fouling out in the final two minutes of the game, New Britain still managed to hold a two-point lead and complete the upset.
How were the Hurricanes able to pull it off despite a glaring height disadvantage, particularly down the stretch?
“Speed kills,” head coach Kurt Reis said bluntly after the game.
Reis’ to-the-point statement might as well be New Britain’s rallying cry for the season as a whole. Since the opening game of the regular season, the Hurricanes have gashed opposing defenses with their overwhelming speed to negate any height challenges.
The same recipe was apparent on Tuesday night as the Warriors, consistently a step behind the speedy Hurricanes, were forced into foul trouble that resulted in 18 New Britain free throws, including two from Tahmeen Dupree to seal the win.
Prior to Dupree’s free throws, Glastonbury had a chance to tie or take the lead, but the Hurricanes forced a turnover by doing what they have done all year: beating ball handlers to their spots and forcing them into bad decisions, this one coming in the form of an errant pass that Dupree grabbed before drawing the foul.
“It was great,” New Britain’s Maurice Turner said after scoring a game-high 14 points. “[Glastonbury] was bigger than us, but our speed took them out of their game. We made them pick up the ball and play to our game, and we took advantage.
The Hurricanes are powerless when it comes to their height, so they have spent the entire year perfecting what they can control, sculpting themselves into one of the fastest and most conditioned teams in the state, which has materialized thanks to tireless hours on the practice floor.
“We run miles in practice,” Reis said. “The kids know that. They don’t cry about it, but we run miles. You can ask them and they’ll tell you.”
Sure enough, Reis’ group echoes their coach’s workload description. The team can’t grow in inches, so they do whatever they can to grow in speed.
“That’s what we do, 24/7,” said senior Kaiyon Gunn, whose blazing speed resulted in one of the biggest plays of the season on Friday night, when he burst in front of a Wilton player awaiting a pass, picking it off and driving to the other end for the game-winning layup. “We run, run, run. All we do is run. We know we’re faster than every team, and teams don’t have the speed we do.”
New Britain is on the brink of a state title because they push themselves to the brink in practice, to make sure they’re ready for the bigger moments.
“Our coaching staff is tough on them to a point where the kids have a tough time dealing with it,” Reis said. “So when we come out here, it’s kind of easy.”