After their win tonight over Campbell, all the Conant players and coaches wanted to talk about was defense.
"After the Mascenic game we re-committed to defense" said Conant head coach Eric Saucier. "We had to if we wanted to go anywhere this season. I was very pleased with our defensive effort tonight."
Conant held Campbell to just 43 points. They held the Cougar's leading scorer, senior guard Josh Morgan (who scored his 1,000th point last year as a junior) to just 7 points on the game, 3 of which came after the game had already been decided. The result was a convincing 57-43 win on Thursday night for the Conant High boys basketball team over Campbell in Division III action in Litchfield.
On 3, Defense!
On Monday night at Mascenic, Conant gave up 69 points in a loss to the Vikings. What a difference 3 days makes.
"We gave up way too many points against Mascenic" said Conant sophomore guard Devin Springfield, who scored 14 points tonight, all coming in the 2nd half (11 of them came in the 4th quarter). "We scored 63 in that game, we should win when we score that many."
Tonight the goal defensively for the Orioles was to stop Josh Morgan. Mission accomplished. Morgan hit a tough, fade away jumper on the baseline early on in the game. From that point on he was shut down by the intense pressure defense of Conant. They played man-to-man defense all game, and also pressed Campbell full court nearly all game in order to wear them down. They really frustrated Morgan, forcing him into tough shots all game. Junior guard Keegan O'Hern came off the bench and really did a nice job of shutting him down. Morgan shot just 3/14 from the floor on the game.
"Keegan is a very good defender. He did a very nice job on Morgan tonight."
Strong Bench Play for Conant
Sophomore forward Justin Howe is out indefinitely for the Orioles due to an off-court infraction.
"We'll miss having Howe in there" said Coach Saucier. "He gives us size off the bench and is a strong defender."
With Howe out, others had to step up. That's exactly what happened. O'Hern was exceptional defensively. And Jake Carlson (8 points) and Sean McGlynn (7 points) provided some much needed scoring punch off the bench. Carlson netted 6 points in the span of about a minute in the 1st quarter, which really gave Conant a lift. They started the game off a little cold offensively. After a nice pull-up jumper off a crossover by Campbell sophomore guard Max Gouveia (returning from knee injury that forced him to miss last 2 games) the Cougars led 10-9. That's when Carlson went in, scored the last 6 points of the quarter and just like that the Orioles led 15-10.
In the 2nd quarter it was McGlynn's turn to shine. After a three-pointer by Campbell senior guard Andy Lepine (12 points) tied the game up at 15-15, McGlynn answered right back with a three of his own to put Conant back on top 18-15. What was most impressive about the play by McGlynn was the fact that earlier on the possession he missed a three ball. He didn't hang his head though. He hustled after the loose ball, tipped it to a teammate and then spotted back up, this time on the opposite wing. This time he nailed the shot. Campbell was still hanging around though. Gouveia made an athletic play to tip the ball in against two bigger Conant players, and the Cougars led 21-18 late in the 1st half. After the Orioles cut the Campbell lead to 21-20, they then had the ball late in the half with a chance to take the lead and get momentum back going into the locker room. Once again it was McGlynn who came through, hitting a clutch 15 foot jumper off the dribble from the elbow, and the Orioles went into the break up 22-21.
Not many teams have a kid coming off the bench who can give them instant offense like that. Yet Conant has two of them.
Hodgson and Springfield Take Over in 2nd half
As good as the defense and the role players were for Conant, it was the play of senior forward Ezra Hodgson and sophomore guard Devin Springfield in the 2nd half which really stood out. Hodgson is "Mr. Consistent." He's a rock out there. No matter what happens with the other guys, you know what you're going to get from him. Strong play on both ends of the floor, all-out effort and strong leadership. He had a game-high 15 points and 11 rebounds. But it was a blocked shot that he had which was especially pivotal. Morgan turned the corner while coming off a screen. It looked like he had a an open lane to the basket for a lay-up. But then at the last second Hodgson came over from the weak side to block the shot and save the basket.
"I think that was a turning point in the game" said Saucier. "It was a great play by Ezra, and it energized our team."
Hodgson and Springfield both hit three pointers right off the bat to begin the 3rd quarter. And after Campbell was up 21-18 late in the 2nd quarter, just about 2 minutes later they were now down by 7, 28-21. Ouch! Hodgson then converted a shot inside off a nice offensive rebound and pass by senior guard Dan Sirois (9 points) to make it 30-21 Conant.
Springfield hit that big three early in the 3rd quarter, but it was the 4th quarter when he really took over. The 6'1" lefty scored 11 points in the game's final frame, and scored the in a variety of ways. While he hit a big three in the 3rd, he scored all of his 4th quarter points from inside the arc. Springfield began attacking the basket off the dribble, and the Campbell defense had no answer for it. He showed the ability to not only hit the mid-range pull-up with ease and a smooth shooting stroke, but was also able to go by his defender and get all the way to the rim, where he either finished or got fouled. For a kid who is only a sophomore and is playing his first season of varsity ball Springfield is very poised out there. I guess when your father, your aunt and your big sister have all scored 1,000 points in a Conant uniform it's just in your genes!
The Bottom Line
Conant is a good team, and this was a good win for them. I still feel like Mascoma and Berlin are the teams to beat in D-III. But Conant is not far behind (after all, they only lost by 4 on the road vs. Mascoma and actually led by 15 in that game) and neither is Bow (a good veteran basketball team). Conant is no longer a team that depends solely on Ezra Hodgson to score the basketball. They are quickly developing more weapons. Conant, Mascoma, Bow and Berlin are all very good defensive teams. So you can expect some low scoring contests in the D-III playoffs.
As for Campbell, they continue to miss the presence of John Houston, a junior forward who is out for the year with a broken thumb. He would have given them toughness, defense and rebounding, and would have combined with senior forward Tyler Syphers (12 points and 7 rebounds tonight) to form a solid 1-2 punch in the paint. This is a team that has talent, but the pieces aren't fitting together well enough on a consistent basis fr this to be a team that can contend with the other elite teams in the division. Morgan is a talented player, but his shot selection is questionable. When Campbell had success this evening it was when he drew all of the defense's attention by running a pick and roll and found Syphers rolling towards the rim. Lepine, Gouveia, Jacob Morgan (Josh's little brother) and freshman Jesiah Wade are all kids who can make plays and score the basketball. If these guys can get up and down the floor and share the basketball (and play better defense) they will win their share of basketball games.