The New Britain boys basketball team is set to take on No. 1 Waterford on Sunday for the Division II state tournament championship.
Here are three things the Hurricanes must do if they are to win their first state title since 1950:
AVOID ANOTHER SLOW START
The Hurricanes have squeaked past their last two tournament opponents by a combined four points thanks to clutch defensive stops and a strong poise at the free throw line, but they came out slow in both games to set up nail-biting finishes. Should New Britain stumble out of the gate again on Sunday in the Division II state championship game, it might not have an opportunity to settle in against a team like Waterford.
The Hurricanes surrendered seven unforced turnovers in the first quarter of their quarterfinals matchup against Wilton, and coughed up five takeaways in the opening period in the semifinals against Glastonbury. Both times resulted in a resurgent focus that got New Britain right back into the game, but head coach Kurt Reis would still like to see a full four quarters of solid play in order to avoid an early hole that the Lancers would make awfully tough to climb out of.
“We still haven’t played a perfect game,” Reis said. “Maybe this is the one where we don’t turn it over early to start the game. But you never know what’s going to happen until you get there.”
STAY OUT OF FOUL TROUBLE
Anyone who has watched New Britain knows of its defensive identity. In all likelihood, the Hurricanes will open with a press defense and look to turn turnovers into easy points in transition, like they’ve done all season. The New Britain defense forced over 20 turnovers in each of the first two rounds, and forced a pair of huge takeaways down the stretch of the last two games, both coming in the final minute to help seal a victory.
However, Tuesday night’s semifinals win was still in question in the waning moments after senior forward Shamah Charles fouled out after Glastonbury was already in the bonus, and a couple more converted free throws for the Tomahawks could have resulted in a different outcome. Charles is the Hurricanes’ top rim protector, and they will need him to stay on the floor against Waterford forwards Ryan O’Connell and Payton Sutman.
PUSH THE PACE
Staying out of fouls trouble will go a long way to help New Britain in this regard, but this still deserves its own section because of how vital it is to the Hurricanes’ style. New Britain consistently rotates nine or 10 players, and Reis has made conditioning a focal point of the team’s practices since before the season began. It’s hard to find a team that can match the Hurricanes’ speed and conditioning, and if they want to return to the Hardware City with a ring, they better flash it from the opening tip until the final whistle.
Waterford may have the size advantage like Glastonbury did, but as long as the Hurricanes are consistently moving away from the ball and not easing up on any defensive possessions, they’ll have a good chance to pull off the upset and win the state championship.