Coming into Monday night’s quarterfinal match of the Division II boys basketball state tournament, all the signs pointed in Wilton’s favor. A game on your home court in the quarterfinal round as a 13th seed, playing a team that you beat by 22 points in the Holiday Tournament coached by your former head coach, who has never won a game with his new team at the Zeoli Fieldhouse.
But as the saying goes, “That’s why they play the games,” as the 21st-seeded Newtown Nighthawks overcame all that to beat the Warriors, 57-54, in overtime.
“Yes, the seniors were very emotional after the game. They poured their hearts and souls to the years they played in this program and helped get us to where we are today, and it’s hard to finish with a loss on your home court,” said Wilton head coach Joel Geriak. “We had our chances to win, had some shots that didn’t fall, and missed a couple of front ends of one-and-one foul shots. I guess the basketball gods weren’t looking down on us tonight. We didn’t attack on offense the way we should have and we got out in transition like we wanted, but they were quick to get back on defense. Give them a lot of credit. They played more physical than we did and they are a better team than the team we faced earlier in the year.”
Senior Kyle Shifrin got the Warriors going with a putback basket to open the game’s scoring for the 2-0 Wilton lead. The score was back and forth early in the first quarter, with Wilton holding a 7-5 lead after a bucket by senior Antonio Brancato, but the Nighthawks closed out the period on a 12-3 run fueled by four 3-pointers to hold a 17-10 lead after one.
Newtown maintained the lead the entire second quarter, with its biggest lead being nine points at the start the period. Down six points with under five seconds left on the clock, Nick Kronenberg nailed a 3-pointer to pull the Warriors to within three points, 23-20, as time expired in the first half.
After Newtown’s Nicholas Weiland reverse layup to start the scoring in the third quarter, the Warriors started to chip away at the lead.
Senior Scott Cunningham’s 3-pointer pulled the Warriors to within one, and Kronenberg’s three put Wilton in the lead at 31-29 with 3:21 left in the period. And when senior Kyle Maatallah drove to the basket for the left-handed layup, the Warriors had a their biggest lead of the night at 37-32.
Wilton led 37-36 after three quarters.
Newtown tied the game at 38-38 less than a minute into the final quarter. The Nighthawks saw their lead grow to five points at 47-42 midway through the fourth quarter, but a 3-pointer by Cunningham got Wilton back to within one at 47-46 with 1:56 remaining in regulation.
Newtown led 48-46 with the ball but committed a costly turnover by not advancing the ball over halfcourt in time, giving Wilton the ball. Sophomore Kyle Hyzy’s bucket tied the game at 48-48, forcing the game into overtime.
Newtown took the lead in overtime 49-48, as Weiland went one for two from the foul line. Hyzy’s short bucket gave Wilton the lead at 50-49 and after a Kronenberg basket the Warriors were up 52-49 with just over two minutes to play. A 3-pointer by Newtown’s Todd Petersen tied the game at 52-52 with 2:11 left in overtime. The 6’5” Peterson, who was blocking shots or forcing the Warriors to change their shots when driving to the basket all night long, stepped behind the three-point line for the basket.
With less than two minutes to play and the Nighthawks leading 53-52 with the ball, they looked to run time off the clock, which forced Wilton into fouling. Newtown went four for six from the free throw line, while the Warriors could only manage two free throws from Cunningham, to close out the scoring and the 57-54 win for Newtown.
“These kids haven’t quit all year long and they really brought it tonight,” said Newtown head coach Tim Tallcouch. “These kids believe in themselves and we feel that we are team of destiny. I had a young team when we faced Wilton the first time this season and this team has really grown throughout the season. I had a sophomore point guard running our offense who has come a long way since that game.
“Our plan coming into the game was to not let them have uncontested threes and pound the ball inside on offense and they went out and did that,” he continued. “This win is extra special to me and the kids knew that coming into tonight’s game. I have never won on this court as a Newton head coach.”
Wilton finished the season 15-8 overall, while Newtown will now face the ninth-seeded Amity Spartans on Wednesday night in the semifinal round.
The Warriors were led by Brancato’s 15 points, followed by 10 points for Kronenberg and nine points each for Maatallah and Cunningham.
Newtown was paced by Petersen with 21 points and Robert Disibio with 16 points.
Newtown 57, Wilton 54 (OT)
Evan Eggleston 2 0-0 6, Nick Weiland 1 3-6 5, Robert DiSibio 4 5-6 16; Todd Petersen 7 3-5 21, Riley Ward 3 3-4 9; TOTAL – 18 14-21 57;
Antonio Brancato 5 4-7 15, Kyle Maatallah 3 1-2 9; Kyle Shifrin 2 0-0 4, Scott Cunningham 2 3-6 9, Kyle Hyzy 2 0-0 4, Kyle Phillips 1 0-0 3, Nick Kronenberg 4 0-0 10, Robbie Hermann 0 0-0 0, Tucker Walden 0 0-0 0, Ryan Schriber 0 0-0 0; TOTAL – 19 8-15 54.
Newtown 17 6 13 12 9 – 57
Wilton 10 10 17 11 6 – 54
3-pointers: Newtown – Petersen (3), DiSibio (3), Eggleston (2); Wilton – Maatallah (2), Cunningham (2), Kronenberg (2), Phillips, Brancato.