WATERBURY — Newtown High School’s boys’ basketball team overcame a six-point fourth-quarter deficit to shock the fourth-seeded Crosby High Bulldogs, 61-58 in the opening round of the Class LL state tournament on March 4.
No. 29 Newtown, a heavy underdog, advanced to visit No. 13 Westhill of Stamford in the second round, at 7 pm on March 6.
The Nighthawks used a spread, slowdown offense to keep the ball out of the hands of a Bulldog team that scored 80 or more points in 13 of 20 regular season games this year. Newtown held a Bulldog squad to its lowest point total of the campaign for the second straight game. The Nighthawks also did it in a South-West Conference tourney opening round loss to the Bunnell of Stratford Bulldogs, on February 23.
Newtown’s big center, Julian Dunn, was a key difference-maker in the fourth quarter. He scored several late baskets to keep the season going. Dunn finished with 12 points. Connor Quinn led Newtown’s balanced scoring attack with 14. Gavin Scallon, who hit a pair of waning seconds free throws to help seal the win, dropped in a dozen. Jake Ball scored nine, and Patrick Riccardi and Brian LeBlanc both added six for Newtown.
“I really think everybody came through,” Scallon said. “I think we do a really good job of playing up to our competition.”
Newtown trailed 51-45 with 7:15 left in the fourth quarter, and called timeout. The visitors then went on an 8-0 run to seize the lead. Dunn hit a pair of free throws to trim the deficit to four, Quinn hit one of two shots, and Ball drained a 3-pointer to knot the score. Dunn then scored on a third-chance put-back for a 53-51 lead with 5:07 left. Dunn’s basket was set up by a blocked shot by Ball at the other end of the court.
The Bulldogs went ahead 54-53 with 3:42 left. Dunn’s bucket — once again down low — gave Newtown a one-point lead. Crosby’s Tyshon Rogers reclaimed the lead for the Bulldogs, 56-55, with 2:11 left.
Scallon found Dunn for another hoop and NHS took the lead back with 1:57 to go. Crosby went back on top when Rogers hit a pair of free throws for a 58-57 lead with 1:43 showing on the scoreboard clock.
Back and forth we go.
Newtown was denied on a chance to reclaim the lead when Quinn drove to the hoop and dished to Dunn who had his shot blocked. Dunn got back down the floor and drew a charge to get the ball back into Newtown’s hands. Scallon again found Dunn for another basket and a 59-58 NHS lead with just 45 seconds remaining.
A backcourt violation by Rogers gave the ball back to Newtown with just 23.8 seconds to go. A missed Newtown free throw on the front end of a one and one opportunity gave the Bulldogs another chance to take the lead, but Newtown’s tough defense was up to the task. The pressure D forced Crosby to lose the ball out of bounds.
Off the ensuing inbound play, Scallon hustled to get to a loose ball. He was fouled a split second before passing to a wide open Dunn, and promptly dropped in two foul shots with 5.3 seconds left for a 61-58 lead. Rogers missed on a 3-point heave at the buzzer.
Crosby, which went 19-1 this year, was paced by prolific scorer Rogers, with 30. Rogers averages 31 per game, and was quite effective, but Newtown Coach Tim Tallcouch noted that his defense, led by Ball guarding Crosby’s main man, limited the damage.
“He’s a good player — Good players are going to score. I just tried to hold him to as little as I could,” Ball said.
Newtown didn’t let Crosby pull away in the third quarter. LeBlanc answered a pair of Crosby 3-pointers with two shots from downtown of his own, twice sniping a four-point deficit to just one. Newtown, which led by one after the first quarter, trailed by three at the half and at the end of three quarters of play.
Scallon had five assists, and Mike Daubert and Ball both had four. Daubert also came up with four steals for Newtown. The Nighthawks were 8-for-12 from the free throw line. Newtown went 8-12 this year, narrowly qualifying for the state tourney. The Hawks will look for another upset against 16-5 Westhill, which plays out of the tough FCIAC.