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Update: The quarterfinal-round game versus Wilton has been changed to a 6 pm start. Same date and location — Monday, March 12, at Wilton High.
Newtown High School’s boys’ basketball team used a 16-0 run made possible by strong defense and accurate 3-point shooting to erase a seven-point halftime deficit and defeat host Pomperaug of Southbury 66-56 in the Division II state tournament’s second round, on Saturday, March 10.
The No. 21 seed in the bracket, Newtown will visit No. 13 Wilton in the quarterfinals on Monday, March 12, beginning at 6 pm.
No. 5 Pomperaug, a South-West Conference rival of Newtown’s had held off the Nighthawks during a regular-season meeting.
In the rematch, nine 3-pointers by the Hawks, including three apiece from Evan Eggleston and Riley Ward, along with an improved defensive effort from the Nighthawks after halftime, proved to be too much for the Panthers.
The Panthers led 33-26 after two quarters. Newtown allowed just one Pomperaug field goal — a Mario Paniccia 3-pointer for a 36-32 lead — in the third, outscoring the Panthers 20-3 in the stanza to build a 46-36 lead heading to the fourth.
Eggleston’s baseline drive and banker off the glass, with 3:49 left in the third, gave the Hawks a 37-36 edge, the team’s first lead since the opening quarter. That was part of a 16-0 run that spilled over into the fourth, and effectively decided the game.
Todd Petersen’s drive to the rim and quick stop and shoot for two points made it a three-point game. Eggleston tacked on two free throws, Ward drained a right corner 3-pointer, and Eggleston found a path to the basket to cap the third-quarter scoring.
Pomperaug went 6:50 between points, by which time Newtown went up a dozen at 48-36.
A difference-maker, Newtown Coach Tim Tallcouch said, was his team’s ability to challenge Pomperaug shots.
Newtown surrendered 26 uncontested shots in the first matchup with the Panthers, of which Pomperaug made 16; conversely, the Panthers hit just five of 15 contested shots in that game, Tallcouch said.
A focus in the playoff battle was not allowing the Panthers open looks.
“We really wanted to clamp down and do that. We wanted to contest those shots and we did,” Tallcouch said.
That was especially the case in the third quarter, and with the Panthers in dire need of 3-pointers late in the fourth. The Hawks didn’t allow any room to shoot from the perimeter at times.
The Panthers did manage eight baskets from behind the arc, four of which came in the final period when they scored 20. Pomperaug got to within 53-48 with 2:58 left in the game. Petersen responded with a 3-pointer to push the lead back to eight. Pomperaug twice pulled to within six in the final couple of minutes but got no closer as the Hawks put up a 20-spot of their own in the final eight-minute block.
Robert DiSibio sank a 3-pointer and five of six foul shot opportunities in the fourth.
Another area of focus for the Hawks was in boxing out and limiting the Panthers to few second-chance opportunities, Eggleston said.
Clutch front end one and one free throws by Eggleston and Nick Weiland, down the stretch, were part of Newtown’s overall 15-for-23 performance from the charity stripe, including 12-for-17 in the final stanza.
DiSibio led the Hawks with 19 points, Eggleston poured in 17 points, Weiland and Ward both dropped in 11, and Petersen added eight.
Jason Hirschauer led the Panthers with 20 points.
Weiland, DiSibio, and Petersen all made baskets from downtown.
Late in the game, Petersen blocked a shot, and Weiland dove to the court to grab a loose ball as the Hawks maintained their defensive intensity.
Newtown built a big lead before holding off host and No. 12 Ledyard 66-61 in the state tourney opener on March 6.
“We were able to pull that one out and we’ve just kept that energy going,” Eggleston said.
The Hawks kept up their momentum even despite the game against Pomperaug, originally scheduled for March 8, postponed twice due to the March 7 snowstorm.
“The kids haven’t given up all year. They’ve been focused and at this point right now we’ve got a little bit of belief in us,” Tallcouch said. “Now we’re playing with house money.”
“I don’t think we were every supposed to make it this far,” added Eggleston, alluding to outsider expectations.
Tallcouch formerly coached Wilton High and has since been back to his old stomping grounds, but not in a game of this magnitude. The winner advances to face either No. 9 Amity of Woodbridge or No. 16 Stamford in the Wednesday, March 14 semifinals.