On Thursday December 15th, the Masuk boys basketball team took on next-town rival Trumbull at home in the David Strong Gymnasium. The boys fought hard all night and eventually came out with the win, beating the Eagles 51-48. But the game wasn’t a walk in the park for the Panthers at all. The boys got off to a slow start, being a little weak on defense and allowing the Eagles to score 20 before the end of the first period. The boys were down 20-7 after the first.
Masuk Coach Pete Sklarz brought the team together between quarters and gave some words of wisdom, because when the boys came back for quarter two they were a new team offensively and defensively. They ran with the ball more as a unit and moved it around like the ‘96 Bulls. Defense was lock down as well. Freshman Tyler Newsom put on a defensive masterclass, with 3 blocks. Greg Nivison followed close behind with 1 block and 1 steal. The Panthers worked all the way till halftime, containing the Eagles offense to just 11 points, while gaining 17 of their own to cut the scoring deficit to 7 points.
Masuk was led offensively by several of their key players. Senior Dylan Jackson played some hearty offense coming in with a crisp 8 points. Big man Matt Domenichelli found his place under the hoop to account for a matching 8 points as well. Ethan Palma held up his end of the team with 5 points including a 3 pointer. Freshman standout Newsom was undoubtedly the player of the game bringing in a roasting 19 points including the shot of the game which gave Masuk a 1-point lead with 30 seconds left. It was a big game for him being a varsity freshman against a good opposing team, and especially with big shoes to fill after the loss of 4 players from last year.
“Had a little bit of bubble guts [before the game],” Newsom said “But I got the nerves out. Talked to my teammates, they were a really big help, coach same thing.”
A lot of preparation went into this first game over the last few weeks of practice. Understanding the opposition and knowing their strategy as well as how they play as a team is essential to developing a successful attack and defense plan. The Panthers carried out their defensive plan to near perfection in the second half.
The Panthers worked their magic in quarter three, with some pivotal 3-point shots from [Dylan] Jackson and Junior Colin Francisco. Newsom kept his hot streak going, dishing the Trumbull team plenty of mid range shots and layups. The defense kept Trumbull’s shots from outside the paint to a minimum as they contained them to just 10 points. The boys came back from their halftime deficit with 20 points of their own to take a 3 point lead entering the 4th quarter.
“We knew coming in that they were gonna shoot a lot of 3s, so we wanted to get out on them and force them to drive,” Coach Sklarz noted. “They play really good D, even though it didn’t show in the first half. We buckled down the second half and we were much better.”
Even though the squad has played a few scrimmages together this was the real test as to their effectiveness as a team. They did a great job, knocked out their kinks early and showed out the second half of the game. Even though there are some younger guys on the team, they all can ball. Sometimes it just takes some repetition to fully work as a squad.
“I think a lot of it is because we lost four guys from last year and we have a little bit of inexperience.” Sklarz affirmed. “But they battled and came back, never gave up, and played extremely hard. That’s the key.”
As quarter four rolled on, the two teams traded punches. The Panthers would drive down one side and score, then the Eagles would do the same. This created a clencher of a game for everyone and a game that quite literally came down to the last second. With a narrow lead and under 2 minutes left to play, Trumbull scored to give themselves a 1-point lead. Coach Sklarz called a timeout with a minute left so his guys could regroup. When the boys came back out on the court and got the ball they were on a mission. They were hungry for the win and would play a level above their best to attain it.
With only 30 seconds left on the clock, Stephen Sentementes drove the ball into the paint and flipped a pass to Sophomore Alex Simoulidis, who hit Newsom under the hoop for an easy toss into the net to regain a lead of 1. When Trumbull brought the ball back up to try and score again, they were met with a rock-solid Masuk defense that stopped them.
Driving back down the court, Newsom got fouled and was able to take 2 shots from the free throw line. He drilled both, extending the lead to 3 and forcing the Eagles to make a deep shot to force overtime with only 5 second left on the clock. The shot went up, and bounced off the front of the rim. David Strong Gymnasium erupted in cheer from parents, Masuk alumnus, and current students, while the Trumbull Blackhole bounded off in defeat.
With this pivotal first win, the Panthers gain momentum going forwards and into the weekend when they are set to face the Shelton Gaels again at home on Saturday. Coach Sklarz and the boys have some big plans moving forward for the rest of the season and they have their sights set on the SWC championship and a powerful run in the state championship.