Connecticut Post (Sunday)
Notre Dame-WH advances to semis
NEW HAVEN — For the second straight season, the two Notre Dame boys basketball teams met jn the CIAC Division I quarterfinal round.
Notre Dame-West Haven was able to put away Notre Dame-Fairfield last year, winning by 30 points.
“I think last year, we really didn’t believe we could beat them,” Notre DameFairfield coach Brian Kriftcher said.
It was a different story on Friday night. The Lancers responded this time when the Green Knights went up by double digits They whittled it down to a single point with under a minute to go.
But a 3-point play by Tajae Jones helped the secondranked Green Knights hang onto the 70-68 victory at the Floyd Little Athletic Center.
The third-seeded Green Knights (23-2) will now face No. 2 seed Northwest Catholic in the semifinals Tuesday at the University of Hartford. The time is TBA.
Kamryn Salters had just completed his own 3-point play with 65 seconds left to pull the Lancers (21-4) within 67-66. That completed an 11-1 run.
“It’s a team that has immense character. They don’t give up,” Kriftcher said. “They battled to the end.”
Notre Dame-West Haven led 65-55 with 4 minutes left.
“It’s all about executing and staying mentally tuned into the game,” said NDWH senior Timaury Gay, who finished with 22 points. “We know that in the state tournament, teams are going to play tougher against us. You know they are going to play faster, quicker, stronger. The game can change in a quick second so it’s all about staying tuned into the game.”
Jaydon Jackson had come into the game midway through the fourth quarter for the Green Knights. He only played sparingly in the first half. He didn’t score a point.
But Jackson ended up starting the game’s most critical play.
After Salters’ 3-point play, the Green Knights were scrambling on their next offensive possession. Jackson got the ball at the top of the circle from Gay. Then he heard Jones’ voice on the baseline.
“I heard Tajae say, ‘Ball, ball, ball.” Jackson said. “When we get the ball in the middle, I have to turn around. So I turn around and see Tajae. … I kind of knew he was open when I looked at him. I don’t throw passes unless I see him open.”
Jackson whipped the pass to Jones, who laid it up and got fouled with 53.9 seconds left. Jones made the free throw to put the Green Knights up 70-66. Jones scored nine of Notre Dame’s 11 points in the fourth quarter.
“Our guys, I want them to be aggressive. We talk all the time about being smart at the end of games, but we are always going to take layups,” Notre Dame-West Haven coach Jason Shea said. “We’re not going to play defensive basketball at that point. .., Tajae has a great deal of confidence and great composure. No matter what is going on in the game, Tajae always seems to respond in a positive way.”
Said Kriftcher: “It comes down to one defensive breakdown. We didn’t help from the weakside on that play, but you are not going to be perfect. I didn’t coach a perfect game, we didn’t play a perfect game and the refs didn’t ref a perfect game.”
The Lancers turned it over on their next possession. They finally scored at the buzzer.
The Lancers were able to put up 40 points in the first half. Finn Miller scored 13 points in the first half and had back to back steals in the second quarter, leading to five quick points for the Lancers.
He also made a 3-pointer from the corner in the final seconds of the first half to put the Lancers ahead 40-39 at halftime.
But the Green Knights switched from a man-toman defense to a matchup zone. The Lancers struggled against it, scoring just eight points in the third quarter.
Miller only scored two points in the second half.
“Honestly, we did the same thing last year at the same point (go to the zone defense),” Shea said. “We knew they were going to be a tough guard because they play four or five guards at a time and make you chase them around. I thought the zone gave us an opportunity to use our length and trap a little bit, but at the same time not to give up as much going to the basket.”
But behind Nate Charlot (20 points) and Salters (16), the Lancers were able to mount a comeback and almost pull it completely off.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Tajae Jones and Jaydon Jackson, Notre Dame-West Haven: Jones scored 16 points, including 9 of Notre Dame’s 11 in points in the final quarter. Jackson found Jones for a layup and a 3-point play with 53.9 seconds left.
“He trusts me. We have chemistry. We’ve been playing with each other for four years. He knows my spots where I’m at on the court. I know where to be at when he is passing me the ball, It’s just a trust thing.”
Notre Dame-West haven senior Timaury Gay said about point guard Mekhi Conner.