They’ve found ways to pull out close games – winning a few nail-biters - and have fended off opposing teams’ comeback efforts during the first two-thirds of the season. Now, members of Newtown High School’s boys’ basketball team can add overcoming a late double-digit deficit to their list of accomplishments.
The Nighthawks erased a 48-38 early fourth-quarter Joel Barlow of Redding lead en route to shocking the visiting Falcons 58-56 on January 31.
Newtown, with the win, qualified for state tournament play with victory number eight this campaign. The Nighthawks, who have won eight of their last nine contests, improved to 8-5 overall and a stellar 6-1 in South-West Conference play. The rival Falcons fell to 6-8 (4-4).
“This is par for the course I guess,” said Newtown Coach Tim Tallcouch, whose team has been involved in nine games decided by nine points or less.
“Every night in the SWC’s going to be a game,” said Tallcouch, referring to the competitiveness within the conference.
“We grew as a team and learned to pull out the close ones,” said point guard Troy Frangione, whose team dropped its first four tilts of the campaign, two of which were by four or fewer points.
The Nighthawks have become accustomed to playing in down-to-the-wire battles, but had their biggest fourth-quarter comeback of the winter.
“That showed a lot of grit on our part,” Tallcouch noted. “It was a very good win for us.”
Barlow led 34-25 at halftime, but was held to 22 points by Newtown in the final two quarters.
“They played a phenomenal game – shot the ball lights out in the first half, Tallcouch said of the Falcons.
Three-point shooting specialist Brian LeBlanc got the rally started with a catch-and-shoot trifecta from the corner one minute into the fourth. Julian Dunn, Mike Davis – on a short-range baseline jumper – and Dunn again, followed with hoops to pull Newtown to within a point at 48-47.
After another Newtown defensive stand, the Nighthawks seized the lead for the first time of the second half when Dunn put back a LeBlanc 3-point miss. It was 49-48 Nighthawks with 4:26 to play.
After the Falcons finally ended Newtown’s run – which stretched to 11 unanswered points – Jake Ball went down low to put back a Davis miss making it 51-50 Hawks with just over three minutes to play. Dunn scored for a three-point advantage a half-minute later.
All of the momentum was on Newtown’s side, but the game was far from completed.
With 2:14 left in regulation, Barlow got even on a 3-point play, but Ball used his athleticism to drive to the rim and reclaim the lead for Newtown, making it 55-53 with 1:48 showing on the scoreboard clock.
The Falcons reclaimed the upper hand on a 3-point shot, but Davis got it right back for the Hawks with a strong follow-up of his initial shot, making it 57-56 in favor of the home team with 1:13 to go.
Dunn was fouled with 55 seconds remaining and calmly sank the front end of a one-and-one free throw shooting opportunity to make it a two-point edge. He missed the second shot, but the Falcons couldn’t get the game even thanks to Newtown’s swarming full-court pressure defense.
Frangione came up with a steal and, after missing a front-end one-and-one with just 10 seconds to go, knocked the ball away from a Falcon player to thwart Barlow’s attempt to set up a game-tying or winning play. LeBlanc got control and was fouled with 2.8 seconds left. He missed a chance to ice the game at the line as well, but a desperation Barlow 3-point attempt from beyond half court, as the buzzer sounded, was off the mark.
Dunn led Newtown with 22 points, Davis scored 14, LeBlanc scored 12, and Frangione and Ball had six and four, respectively. Davis had ten rebounds, Dunn pulled down nine, and Frangione had six assists.
Newtown’s coach, as thrilled as he is with these winning ways, said one area in which his team needs to improve is in closing out games more easily.
“When you build a lead and you want to be an upper-echelon team as we want to be, we’ve got to finish off the job there,” Tallcouch said.
“We want to be a state powerhouse kind of team,” Ball said.
Ball noted that Newtown’s teamwork has enabled it to accomplish more than the Hawks possibly could behind individual efforts.
“We’re playing really well. I think we have a shot,” Davis said of the potential for the Hawks to make some noise in the SWC and state playoffs, echoing the Ball’s sentiments that the key will be for the Nighthawks to continue playing as a team.