Eagles interior game augments shooting skills

Running an offense behind the three-point line is all the rage in high school basketball circles, and why not.

Percentages show coaches that making 40 percent from beyond the arc is better than 50 percent from the block.

As scoring goes up, so does the entertainment value and playing from the perimeter gives shorter players a place to show their stuff.

There is still room for the big man, however, and even if Trumbull High’s Ben McCullough isn’t a towering presence, the 6-4 junior is an impact player for coach Buddy Bray’s Eagles.

“Benny brings that physicality, he doesn’t back down,” Bray said after Trumbull handed visiting Wilton High its first loss of the season, 83-74, on Jan. 9. “He gives us that edge (inside).”

McCullough pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds, scored 15 points and made the Warriors work hard on second-chance opportunities and on drives to the basket.

Eddie McElroy scored 23 points and Rashard Rodriguez 19 and the duo combined for 8-of-9 three-pointers made by the Eagles.

“I love to see Eddie, Rashard, Billy Brown and those guys make the big shots,” McCullough said. “But I like the game inside. When a shot misses, it is our job to go get it.”

By “our”, McCullough pointed out fellow bangers Christopher Lyons, Michael Miller, Jason Micalizzi and Frank Puglia. “We feel that rebounding and defense is our way to help win.”

Getting off to a fast start doesn’t hurt.

“We had a good first four minutes tonight and the crowd had a part in that,” said Bray, who gave a salute to Eagle fans after his team improved to 3-2 and Wilton dipped to 5-1. McElroy knocked down three of his five 3-pointers in the opening period, and Rodriguez hit a trey and had four assists in taking an 18-9 lead after one quarter.

Trumbull did a good job defending the perimeter in the period, where the Warriors were 0-for-7 from long range.

Eight turnovers hurt Trumbull’s chances to extend its lead in the second quarter, but again the defense, this time on the interior, made Wilton earn its points.

Putting a body on every Warrior attacking the basket, the Eagles didn’t allow an easy two-pointer. Forced to the foul line, Wilton was 6-for-11 from the stripe.

That, plus an 0-for-3 Warrior performance on 3-pointers and key baskets by Billy Brown, McCullough and McElroy allowed Trumbull to take a 27-19 lead into the half.

Wilton’s Scott Shouvlin made his team’s first trey, and then added five more in the final two periods to finish with 25 points.

But for every Warrior run, Trumbull made the one big play to curtail a huge come back.

Wilton narrowed the deficit to 41-35 with 1:30 left in the third quarter, after Trumbull had a string of six empty possessions. Brown scored on a strong baseline drive and Micalizzi rebounded a Warrior miss. His outlet pass to McElroy saw the senior go the distance through traffic and tally.

Fouled on the play, McElroy and the Eagles got more than they bargained for when Wilton’s Michael Bingaman was hit with a technical foul.

McElroy made the three subsequent free throws, two for the technical. Trumbull turned the extra possession into a floater from Brown in the lane to take its largest lead at 50-35.

It was 50-38 entering the final period. Wilton scored on 6-of-8 possessions, but Rodriguez, McElroy and Puglia made 8-of-9 free throws down the stretch to close out the win. Lyons had 11 rebounds, Rodriguez 10 and Brown had eight boards.

Trumbull had 20 assists on its 28 baskets. Rodriguez had five and McElroy four.

“Those assists are big,” Bray said. “That’s a stat coaches like to see, sharing the basketball.”

Both teams finished with nine 3-pointers. Trumbull was 18-for-35 from the foul line and Wilton was 19-for-26 (8 for 9 in the second half).