St. Joseph got after host Suffield High from the opening tip when the 24th seeded Cadets took out the ninth-seeded Wildcats, 59-51, in a first round Class M boys basketball state tournament road game on Tuesday.
St. Joseph (10-11) will take another trip up I-91 on Thursday at 7 p.m. when it pays a visit to No. 8 Granby High (16-5) after the Bears advanced with a 70-53 victory over No. 25 Haddam-Killingworth.
Suffield, the NCCC playoff champions, finished at 15-6. The Wildcats split games with league rival Granby in the regular season, winning the season opener 48-41 and losing 51-45 on Feb. 16.
Coach Chris Watts’ team never trailed, as they bolted to a 6-0 lead and stretched the advantage to 21-11 after one period and 32-21 at the half.
Suffield closed within 48-46 with 2:56 remaining, but senior Joe Lucy nailed a 3-pointer off an assist from Omar Telfer. After Sam Flynn made it a three-point game, Lucy lined up another trey and swished it home with Telfer earning another assist.
Camren Menefee, who led the Cadets in the early going, rebounded a Wildcat miss, was fouled and made two free throws to take the score to 56-48 with 54 seconds remaining.
“This was one of our better pressing games of the season, we were rotating to the right position,” said Watts, who saw his team turn the Wildcats over six times in the first quarter. “In March you win in advance of playing the game. The team practiced hard and made it work on the court.”
Suffield coach Dan Gatto said, “Listen, St. Joseph is an extremely talented team. They brought a level of pressure, not just with good athletes, but with a system that was very tough to beat up the court. We handled it better in the second half, but it wears you down.”
Menefee made a pair of baseline jumpers to start the game, and after a steal, dropped the ball between his legs on the block to Josh Reaves, who put it in and Suffield called for a timeout.
Lucy answered a 3-pointer by Jacob Arruda with his first for a 13-7 lead, before Jack Moulder hit from downtown on consecutive trips up court and a Tim Dineen free throw took St. Joseph into the first break up 21-11.
Telfer stopped a fast-break chance by Suffield with a steal, and then assisted on a Reaves bucket to open the second quarter. The junior guard then scored a pair of hoops, with Lucy and Menefee earning assists.
Suffield scored the next two baskets, but Chandler Hutcherson converted a steal into a three-point play to make it 30-19.
“Omar was a warrior, Joe Lucy makes it happen when the lights come on and everyone contributed,” Watts said.
Reaves scored seven of his 15 points in the third quarter. Moulder had four 3-pointers and finished with 12 points. Lucy scored 11 points, eight in the final period. Menefee had nine points and Telfer eight to go with six assists and a handful of assists.
Reaves opened the third period with a trey before Suffield went on a 7-0 run.
Reaves added another bucket and Moulder netted a 3-pointer to settle the game back down at 40-30. Another Moulder three and a three-point play by Reaves helped the Cadets take a 47-37 lead into the final frame.
Suffield rallied, as the Cadets came up empty on their first five possessions of the fourth.
Arruda (12 points) had five points and Mike Carruci scored on a breakaway. The Wildcats had the ball down three midway through the stanza, but an illegal screen trying to free Arruda gave the ball back to St. Joseph.
Telfer hit a free throw, but Matt Clark (15 points) drained a pair from the stripe to make it a two-point game.
That’s when Lucy hit his 3-pointer and the Cadets controlled the final two minutes.