BRISTOL - Most of the time the head coach has a message for his team going into a game. But for the St. Paul boys basketball team, the upcoming second-round Division III tournament matchup against Torrington is an exception.
Falcons head coach Steve Phelps wants his players to deliver the message, specifically his six seniors, as the team gets a shot to avenge the 81-59 regular season loss to the Red Raiders.
“I challenged the team that they’re going to come in [Tuesday] with a message for me,” Phelps said following Monday’s first-round win. “They know. We have a mature group that has experience. We will certainly be up for the challenge. The game we played we played at Torrington at the beginning of the year might’ve been our worst played game this season to Torrington’s credit. So I’m anxious to hear the message my team comes back with at practice.”
St. Paul will be tested, specifically on the defensive end of the floor. With senior guards Tyler Arbuckle and Mike Palmieri leading the way, keeping up with the Torrington offense is possible but slowing them down will be crucial.
The Red Raiders averaged 75 points per game in the regular season. The Falcons, meanwhile, allowed opponents to score an average of 58 points per game during the regular season.
“We’re definitely fired up for that game,” Palmieri said. “It’s definitely a revenge match. Me and Tyler especially are going to make sure our guys are ready to play because if you’re not then you shouldn’t be wearing “SPC” on your chest.”
While the Falcons have a lethal offensive duo in Arbuckle and Palmieri, Torrington has more options on the offensive end of the floor and can attack a team in different ways.
The Red Raiders can run up the scoreboard with the outside shot, something they showed in the first matchup between the two. In terms of size, the two teams match up similarly, but Torrington has a more natural big man in the post.
“They’re a high volume offensive team that has a number of weapons,” Phelps said. “When we played them the first time, almost all of their weapons were on fire. We have our work cut out for us. They’re not a No. 6 seed with a bye in the first round of Division III for no reason.”
If St. Paul brings the defensive effort it showed in the first three quarters against Joel Barlow, it should be a tight contest. However, if the Falcons play like they did in the final eight minutes, the Red Raiders could run away with it in their home gym.
“To advance in this thing and be competitive, you’ve got to defend,” Phelps said. “If you can’t defend you’re not going to be around long.”
With the game moved to Thursday, the Falcons have an extra day to prepare, while thinking what their destiny is going to be.
Whatever the message is going to be, it’s likely to be coming from Palmieri and Arbuckle as the two look to put a stamp on successful high school careers.
“We laid an egg [in the first game against Torrington],” Arbuckle said. “We weren’t ready mentally and that’s not going to happen again. We’re ready and we’re prepared to come out of there with a win.”
Dan Orencole can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org