By PHIL BRODSKY
Orange Live Sports Writer
Following his team’s 37-34 bump-and-thump, defense- dominated victory over Branford, Amity boys basketball Coach Jeff Nielsen recalled how his Spartans had also recorded a 54-49 overtime win over the Hornets back on January 4th. While savoring both Southern Connecticut Conference inter-divisional victories, Nielsen also recalled that in that first meeting, Branford’s 6-foot 6-inch, 240 pound center Andrew Klarman (who plans on playing football next year at Middlebury College) had pushed around and physically dominated his big man, lanky 6-6 center Remi Farrell.
Both Nielsen and Farrell were determined not to let that happen again during Tuesday night’s rematch in Woodbridge. Playing the best game of his career, Farrell muscled out an 11 point-12 rebound double-double that also included three blocks. In addition to his offensive efforts, Farrell also limited Klarman to only four points.
“Remi had a great game. He was the force we’ve been looking for inside. Last time we played Branford, Klarman really beat up Remi,” Nielsen said.
The game got underway with the Spartans easily solving the Hornets’ defensive pressure. Stringing together a run of nine unanswered points, Amity jumped out to an 11-4 lead. The Spartan’s first four points were Farrell’s slam dunk, followed by two free throws. With a pair of scores by Gardner Broderick sandwiched around a pop from the corner, Amity held a 17-11 lead at the end of the opening quarter. Five of Branford’s markers were recorded by senior guard Curtis Sutherland.
Sensing he could not slow down or control the Spartans with a press, Hornet Coach Jake Palluzzi switched to a very tight 1-3-1 zone defense. By clogging the middle, Palluzzi made it very hard for Amity hit mid-range jump shots.
Consecutives put-back jump shots by Klarman and Alexander King drew Branford within two points (17-15) with 6 minutes, 16 seconds to go in the first half. Struggling to solve the Hornet zone defense and score points, Amity tallied one lone point until Farrell dropped ion a lay-up (on a feed from Broderick) with 1:22 left in the half to open up a 20-17 lead.
Branford (now 8-4) found its offense to be just as cold as it was scoreless after King’s score at 6:16 until Farrell’s lay-up at 2:59. Jonathan Fuller tossed in a three with 35 seconds to go, slicing the Amity margin to a point (21-20) at the break. With 10 seconds left, Garnder was called for traveling but the Hornets could not capitalize on the turnover. Working nthe clock down for one last shot, Fuller missed a base line jumper at the buzzer.
“After the first quarter, there was a lot of contact. Both teams played hard but we never lost our composure or our lead,” Nielsen said. “Their 1-3-1 forced us to take difficult shots. Both teams played good, physical defense all night. Every shot was contested.”
Following a four point second session, things got only slightly more productive for the Spartans in the third quarter. Farrell’s second slam dunk of the night (set up by a pass from Zac Campbell) followed by Matt Lettick’s three point play enabled Amity to a open up a 28-22 lead with 4:31 to go. The Hornets responded with another Fuller score at 4:11 and a foul shot from Restinel Lomotey at 2:21 made it 28-25. After Campbell netted a base line jump shot at 1:13, Klarman drove the base line to score and was fouled by Lettick with 57 seconds left on the clock. When Klarman added a successful freebie, Amity’s lead was pared to two points (30-28). Fuller hit the first of two foul shots with two ticks left but missed the second.
According to Nielsen, “Once they went to the 1-3-1 and clogged the paint, we couldn’t get the shots we were used to getting. We made only one or two passes before we forced up a shot. Instead of executing better, we began to make poor decisions. Because they packed in so tight, we couldn’t get inside. There really are no set plays to attack a 1-3-1. You have to go to a 2-1-2 offense, quickly move the ball from side to side, reverse it, and look for an open base line jump shot.”
After Farrell’s freebie with 2:44 put Amity on top 33-31, Lomotey drained a trey from the corner at 2:16 to give Branford a 34-33 advantage. It was the Hornets’ first lead since they jumped ahead 4-2 with a minute gone in the game and it lasted until Campbell netted two freebies with 1:39 left in the game.
Amity blew a chance to extended its 35-34 lead when Broderick was guilty of making a bad pass at the 46 second mark. Four seconds later, Campbell fouled Lomotey as he blocked his shot, but Lomotey missed both foul shots and Farrell grabbed the rebound. Running off nine seconds, Ben LeVine was fouled by Alexander King and swished the two insurance points.
With three seconds left, Lomotey (who ended with a game-best 12 points) tossed up but missed a potentially game-tying shot from beyond the arc.
“Holding onto the lead for so long was the key, but we didn’t take good shots and we rushed the shots we did take, even though there was plenty of time left in the game and we had no reason to rush,” Neilsen said.
While the box score showed that he scored only four points, Nielsen credited LeVine’s tenacious defense as being another key to the victory.
He said, “Ben knows that he wasn’t as fast as the guys he was guarding but he is a very smart defender. He plays excellent positional defense.”
The 10-3 winners hit 12 of their 36 shots (33%) and netted 12 of their 18 foul shots (67%). After netting five of its eight freebies during the first three quarters, Amity tossed in seven of 10 in the final session. Campbell and Farrell led the Spartans with 11 points each. While Klarman muscled out 12 rebounds, Amity still outboarded Branford 34-30. In addition to Farrell’s dozen caroms, Campbell and Lettick each grabbed eight.
The winners visit Cheshire Friday night at 7 for a big SCC Housatonic Division contest.