Trumbull triumphs despite short bench due to protocols

Trumbull boys’ basketball coach Buddy Bray had to go deep into his bench when the Eagles defeated Stratford in a holiday tournament.

Trumbull, due to COVID protocols, were down a starter and a pair of top-line subs and turned to untested players to earn the 59-56 victory.

“It was nice to see young kids step up in a tournament championship game,” Bray said after his team improved to 3-1. “Sophomores, the underclassmen did their job and filled in their roles nicely. It was good win for the kids against a very good Stratford team that is going to win a lot of games.”

Connor Johnston scored 22 points and had 12 rebounds to take tourney MVP honors. Ray Vicente was selected to the all-tourney team. He scored 13 points with eight assists.

Stratford, now 3-1, was led by Jayquan Kirkland (24 points) and Brady Knorr (19 points).

“Our players came out with a lot of energy. We had a good start. It was back and forth fourth quarter. It was a good moment for these kids to experience with FCIAC games moving forward. Stratford is very good with a couple of outstanding players. Kirkland is a tough matchup for anybody.”

Trumbull’s first-round game of the tournament with Barlow was cancelled due to COVID protocol. Stratford, now 3-1, defeated Morgan 68-52 to advance.

Bray said: “There were reasons we could have cancelled that game. But we’re playing. It could be sickness, it could be flu, it could be injuries, this is life. I told them before the game I know someone in this room is going to step up. There is enough talent in this room. They must have taken it to heart.”

Brian Elmo was one of Trumbull’s standup guys.

“Brian had a buzzer-beater at the end of the third quarter,” Bray said. “He is a sophomore. He also had a big three in the fourth quarter as well. Brandon Fowler and Sean Racette played well. We had a 10-point lead, then our youth showed, and it went to four in no time. The key was being able to knock down shots in our man offense.”

Elmo finished with 10 points. Fowler, another sophomore, scored eight points and had seven rebounds.

Bray’s secret to success is simple: play together for a full game.

“We have to gang rebound. We have got to do everything as a team,” he said. “We don’t have that individual, that star player. Connor Johnston is a leader. He has been playing varsity since sophomore year. We are relying on each other. We know we have got to work hard to be successful.

“The wins we’ve had we played 32 minutes of good basketball. We can’t have any letdowns. We’re learning can’t have a bad four minutes. We tell our players to not let one bad possession become two or three. You have got to let it go. They are young. They are fun to coach.”

Learning on the run is important.

“For us every night it will be how can we get players to adjust,” Bray said. “Adjust to the speed of the game, changes in defense, how we react on the fly, how we handle it when we do make mistakes. Do we bounce back quick? Those things are important going into league play which begins Saturday with Westhill. They are very good.

“There is a lot of teaching going on. I’m demanding from the second group that they have got to be tough on the first group and make them know their assignments, know their roles. No one is going to feel sorry for us if starters are out. The league teams are going through same thing. I can see going forward where we might have to play three games in a week. That will be tough. But I also hope we don’t pause. That would be tough on this group. I’ve seen with just Christmas Day off, we’ve struggled. A pause on a very young team is something I’d be concerned about.”

Bray added: “We executed down the stretch. Now we have something to build on. We might not get healthy with protocols out there for two weeks. The most important thing is for these kids to stay healthy.”

william.bloxsom@hearstmediact.com Twitter: @blox354