SOUTHINGTON - It was a tale of two halves for the Southington boys basketball team in its game against Northwest Catholic on Saturday night.
The Blue Knights put forth a dominant defensive effort in the first half, holding the Lions to just 13 points, and had a seven point lead at the break.
After halftime though, Northwest Catholic ratcheted up the pressure and Southington had trouble adjusting en route to a 55-40 loss.
A big factor in the change at halftime was the fact that the Blue Knights were without Mike DeFeo for much of the game. The senior point guard left in the first quarter with a shoulder injury and was unable to return.
Once Northwest Catholic (8-7) realized he wasn’t coming back, it pounced on Southington (6-7).
“Point guard is the most important position on the floor,” Southington head coach John Cessario said. “When you lose your senior leader, it’s not going to be easy to deal with.
“I think Colin [Burdette] struggled a little bit tonight but we still think he is a very good asset for us. Like in any sport, when somebody goes down, you have to have guys step up and I think we will be able to adjust if Mike has to miss some time.”
Burdette is just a sophomore and although he has been getting playing time consistently this season, he was thrust into major minutes without DeFeo available. Southington has other guards that can handle the ball but none of them are true point guards, which made it impossible for Cessario to take Burdette off the floor.
“Losing Mike was huge,” said Andrew Lohneiss, who had a team-high 15 points in the loss and was the only Blue Knight to score in double figures. “He is just so good at handling the ball and dealing with the pressure. Having him would have been huge in this game because the turnovers killed us.
“Without him, we just tried to move the ball and get past defenders fast but it didn’t work out too well tonight.”
Northwest Catholic was led by Amir Spears and Cairo McCrory, as both guys had big scoring nights. Spears had a game-high 21 points while McCrory followed close behind with 20 points.
Northwest Catholic came out in the third quarter and ramped up the pressure. The Lions went to a zone press that Southington struggled with. The Blue Knights turned it over multiple times in the frame and that allowed Northwest Catholic to cut into the deficit.
Southington was unable to figure out the pressure for the entirety of the quarter and was outscored 17-8 in the frame. With the strong third, the Lions entered the final period up 30-28.
After nearly two scoreless minutes to start the fourth quarter from both sides, Southington’s Brendan Taylor opened up the scoring with a floater and an and-one. He made the free-throw but Jeremy Mercier was called for a lane violation so the Blue Knights had to settle for just tying the game rather than taking the lead.
From there, Northwest Catholic scored eight of the next 10 points to take control of the game with just over four minutes left. The Lions were able to extend that lead in the back half of the fourth to close out the victory.
“We did some good things tonight especially on the defensive side of the ball and I do think we are getting more comfortable on offense even if the score doesn’t show it,” Cessario said. “But to adjust to losing a key player like that on the fly isn’t easy. We should have been able to hold on to that seven-point halftime lead more than we did but there were good things in this game.”
Defense prevailed in the first quarter, as both teams were held to single digits in the opening frame. Neither team shot the ball well but both sides were able to do good work on the offensive glass to create at least some sort of offense.
Southington was down 8-5 with the first quarter clock winding down when Northwest Catholic turned the ball over on a moving screen. The Blue Knights took over with five seconds left and Andrew Lohneiss brought the ball down the court and hit a long three-pointer to tie the game at eight after one.
Lohneiss followed up the buzzer beater with a three-pointer to open up the scoring in the second quarter. The junior not only had a big impact on the offensive end during this stretch but he was a pest on defense, picking up two steals early in the quarter.
Southington’s defense remained stout in the early part of the second, while its offense perked up. Taylor scored four straight points to give the Blue Knights a 16-10 lead with less than four minutes left in the half. Southington would extend that lead to seven points as it entered the break up 20-13.
The majority of Northwest Catholic’s points in the second quarter came from the free-throw line as it had trouble figuring out the Blue Knights’ zone defense. In total Southington held the Lions to just five points in the second quarter.