Newtown High School’s boys’ basketball team climbed over the .500 mark for the first time this season by winning twice in as many days — beating host Oxford 56-42 on January 24, and visiting Pomperaug of Southbury 48-46 in a rescheduled game the next afternoon.
It took the Nighthawks nearly a month to get their record even following a frustrating 0-4 start, then less than 24 hours to push over the hump and improve to 6-5 overall.
A team effort has led to Newtown’s winning ways, and the Nighthawks are now enjoying down-to-the wire, pressure-filled contests a little more than they were early on in the campaign. After dropping each of those first four decisions by nine or fewer points (among them two- and four-point outcomes), the Hawks have won twice by just two points, including a redemption win over Pomperaug, which had defeated NHS 37-33 in the second game of the campaign.
“I like playing under pressure — it’s a lot of fun. I think all of us do,” Newtown’s sharp outside shooter Brain LeBlanc said after the 48-46 win over the Panthers.
LeBlanc scored five points, and had four assists and four defensive rebounds in the victory. He’s been the team’s high scorer at times. On this particular day, Julian Dunn was Newtown’s leader, with 28 points. Dunn was a clutch 8-for-10 from the free throw line as the Hawks were a collective 10 for 15 in the game.
Troy Frangione scored 11 points. Mike Davis had a dozen rebounds and a pair of blocked shots. Dunn had seven rebounds and three steals in the win over the Panthers. Frangione had four defensive rebounds.
In the previous win, over Oxford, Davis was the go-to scorer with 21 points, LeBlanc scored 14, Dunn had 10, and Frangione added 5. That game was tied at 15 apiece at halftime before Newtown went on a 24-11 third-quarter run to seize control. LeBlanc rained a trio of 3-pointers on Oxford in that game-changing quarter.
Oxford came into the game with only one win, an out-of-conference triumph. Newtown then handed Pomperaug its fourth straight defeat following seven wins to begin the campaign.
The Hawks jumped out to a 21-9 lead after one quarter of play only to see the Panthers pull to within two, at 37-35, heading into the fourth.
“Pomperaug’s a very good team. They’re well-coached, they play strong defense,” Newtown Coach Tim Tallcouch said.
Even with a seemingly comfortable cushion, the coach wasn’t about to count his chickens before they hatched.
“I knew we would have to withstand their runs,” Tallcouch said.
Dunn scored Newtown’s first five fourth-quarter points. After a Pomperaug free throw, LeBlanc hit a floater in the lane to extend Newtown’s lead to 44-38 with three minutes to play.
The Panthers fouled Dunn with 1:13 to go, and Newtown’s big center hit the front end of a one and one free throw shooting opportunity and sank his second shot to make it 46-38.
Pomperaug closed to within 46-43 with 34 seconds to play, and Frangione also came up big at the line in a one and one scenario, sinking both freebees for a 48-42 lead with 31 seconds to go. The Panthers closed to within two on a shot from downtown with just 5.6 seconds showing on the scoreboard clock. Newtown, despite its overall success at the charity stripe, couldn’t ice the win at the line, but strong defense in the final seconds, capped by a Frangione knock-away and a Dunn steal, sealed the win.
Of Newtown’s first 11 games, seven have been single-digit outcomes one way or the other. The Nighthawks stand to benefit from being involved in such tight battles when the pressure is really turned on in the form of win or go home playoff battles.
“You would hope that they would pay off,” Tallcouch said.
For now, the Hawks are focused on winning as many games as they can to qualify for the postseason, and bolster their playoff positioning. Getting over .500 was an accomplishment team members had their sights set on since the opening tip to the campaign back in mid December.
“It’s a good feeling. We’ve been talking about it all year,” LeBlanc said of his team having a winning record.
Newtown, following the Pomperaug game, got ready for another chance to redeem itself with a January 28 visit to 9-1 New Fairfield, which had beaten the Hawks 51-49 on opening night. That contest is followed by a January 31 visit from Joel Barlow of Redding, which split its first 12 games with half a dozen wins and losses. Both games are 7 pm starts.
“In this league, you cherish every single win. I’d rather be 6-5 then 0-11,” Tallcouch said after the Pomperaug game. “It’s a dogfight every week.”