TERRYVILLE - As the tension rose during Tuesday nightâ€™s Division V boys basketball state tournament opener between No. 22 Terryville and No. 11 Bullard-Havens Tech, the young and inexperienced Kangaroos were showing no signs of crumbling under the mounting pressure.
Down by three midway through the fourth quarter, junior Albert Molina knocked down his sixth triple in as many attempts to tie the game, leading to a go-ahead jumper by freshman Dominick Dao with 1:25 remaining.
A composed sophomore in Sean Oâ€™Donnell iced the game with a lay-up in the gameâ€™s final seconds, securing a victory that saw plenty of opportunities for a young team to let the moment get the best of them.
Instead, Terryville excelled thanks to a looseness in its play that only comes from a team that feels like it has nothing to lose.
â€śWe were moving the ball better, playing loose and working with each other instead of being tight and wondering what would happen if we lost the game,â€ť Molina said after his torrid shooting night from beyond the arc. â€śWe just played way better and together as a team.â€ť
Not much is expected from the Kangaroos as a No. 22 seed, which is similar to the teamâ€™s expectations midway through the season when they stumbled to a 4-11 record before rattling off four straight wins to qualify for the state tournament.
Free from expectation, Terryville has been thriving.
â€śI think we realize weâ€™re playing with borrowed money,â€ť head coach Mark Fowler said. â€śWe have nothing to lose. All we have to do is go out there and give it our best run.â€ť
The Kangaroos will again need their best on Thursday night when they travel to face No. 6 Morgan, a team that already escaped a potential upset by squeaking past No. 27 Haddam-Killingworth by two points.
The Huskies used their experience to come up with big shots down the stretch to avoid the upset; but despite a roster that boasts six seniors and eight upperclassmen, Fowler saw enough from his team on Tuesday night to believe that experience wonâ€™t be a major factor in Thursday nightâ€™s matchup.
â€śItâ€™s crazy to discount [experience], but after last night where I have a freshman [Dao] who made a game-winning shot, a sophomore [Oâ€™Donnell] who made a bunch of big plays and a junior [Molina] who shoots 6-for-6 from the 3-point line in foreign territory, I know weâ€™re ready, even if weâ€™re not the most experienced team,â€ť Fowler said. â€śNot to discount Morganâ€™s experience, but I think we grew up really quickly last night.â€ť
The players echo their coachâ€™s assessment. After coming through in the clutch numerous times on Tuesday as well as down the stretch of the regular season, the Kangaroos believe their recent performance on the court means much more than the grade level listed next to their names on the team roster.
â€śWeâ€™ve seen a lot of experienced teams this year,â€ť Molina said. â€ś[Morgan] has high schoolers just like us. We donâ€™t fear anyone, regardless of their grade.â€ť
While Terryville played without fear on Tuesday, the accomplishment of toppling a team with twice as high a seed as their own wasnâ€™t lost on the Kangaroos, who made sure to enjoy the moment after the final buzzer sounded.
â€śWeâ€™ve got a team that doesnâ€™t have a lot of tournament experience, so they were like little kids out there,â€ť Fowler said of the teamâ€™s reaction to the win. â€śThey were pretty pumped up. Any time you can go on the road and get a tournament win, you get hyped about that. We donâ€™t take for granted what happened last night.â€ť
Terryville may have nothing to lose, but that doesnâ€™t mean itâ€™s ready to call Tuesday night a satisfying ending to its season.
â€śI donâ€™t think weâ€™re thinking about last night too much,â€ť Molina said. â€śThatâ€™s done. Weâ€™re just going to go in [on Thursday] and scrap and try and come out with a win.â€ť