Trumbull basketball advances behind McElroy

Eddie McEloy scored nine straight points for Trumbull High, but visiting Bridgeport Central’s Dyshaun Pulliam hit a driving layup at the first-quarter buzzer to give the 21st-seeded Hilltoppers a 21-20 lead over the 12th-seeded Eagles in a Class LL first-round state tournament boys basketball on Monday night

McEloy, a 6-1 sharpshooting two guard, was just getting started and the senior led Trumbull all the way back to an 86-60 victory.

Trumbull (16-7) will play at No. 5 Hillhouse High (19-4), a 63-47 winner over Staples-Westport, in a second-round game on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven.

“I’ve seen Hilhouse on tape,” Trumbull head coach Buddy Bray said. “They have three very good guards and a guy inside who is solid. We’ll have to protect the basketball and get good looks.

“These kids are ready. At this point you are who you are and I’m happy with that.”

It was 23-20 Central when McElroy rattled home a jumper from the elbow.

Pulliam made a pair of free throws, before Rashard Rodrigues, who would later score the 1,000 point in his career, tallied on a drive to break a stretch of 15 straight Trumbull points credited to McElroy’s account.

He wasn’t done. McEloy made a pair of free throws and then  knocked down a 3-pointer to bring his game total to 22 and the score to 34-31 Eagles.

“It felt good, my teammates found me in open spots,” McElroy said after following up a 29-point performance in Trumbull’s loss to eventual champion Westhill-Stamford in the FCIAC semifinals with a 31-point effort versus Central.

“We tried to get the best shots possible and the perimeter was open. We wanted to get to Wednesday night.”

Trumbull took a 42-35 lead into the half on the Hilltoppers (11-10).

“They (Central) were getting to the rim and knocking down threes,” Bray said of the first quarter. “It was everything I expected from the defending FCIAC and state champions.

“I told the kids they weren’t going to hand us anything; that we’d have to earn it.

“We took a great punch and Eddie McEloy had an amazing game for a high school basketball player. If he doesn’t hang 22 (when he did) we’re scrambling.”

Rodrigues, who had eight points at the half, and Billy Brown, who had six, received help stretching the Eagles’ advantage in a third quarter won 18-5 by Trumbull.

Ben McCullough, who had eight points and 11 rebounds, fought hard for a pair of inside baskets early in the third quarter.

Then, Chris Lyons (six points) hit a brace of free throws and Brown (10 points, five assists) took the ball on a forced turnover by Brendan Owen and tallied on a breakaway.

McElroy unleashed his second shot of the second half and caught nothing but net to bring the score to 55-39.

Coming out of a Central timeout, Rodrigues joined Harold Jensen (1983) as the only players in the program to reach 1,000 points in their career.

McElroy rebounded a missed shot and evoked images of his brother Johnny, a quarterback on the Eagles’ football team, by rifling a full court pass to Rodrigues, who layed the ball in while being fouled.

“I knew I was close and I was pressing the last couple games,” said Rodrigues, who finished with 19 points. “Eddie’s been on fire and that opens the floor for everyone else.”

Trumbull took a 60-40 lead into the fourth quarter.

“We just got beat by a better team, that’s all there is to it,” said Bridgeport Central head coach Barry McLeod.

“We were in the game in the first half, but you can’t win from three-point range. You have to get some production from inside.”

Dondre Daniels scored 25 points and backcourt mate Pulliam finished with 23 for the Hilltoppers.

Lost in the haze of the victory, and Rodrigues’ accomplishment, was the fact that Trumbull was a perfect 18-for-18 from the foul line.

Central made good on 10-of-16 chances from the free throw stripe.