AVON – It didn’t look good for the Avon High boys basketball team early in the fourth quarter of Monday night’s Class L first round contest. Visting Bulkeley had a seven-point lead with 7:32 remaining. Avon had made just one field goal in the second half and had committed eight turnovers.
But the Falcons didn’t wilt. They gave up just four points in the final seven minutes and sparked by senior Patrick McKearney and freshman Nathan Laszewski, Avon rallied to eliminate the Bulldogs, 43-38.
Laszewski sank two foul shots with 2:30 remaining to tie the game at 38-38 and drained a huge three-point shot with 56 seconds remaining to give the Falcons their first lead since halftime.
McKearney, a 6-foot-3 forward, carried the Falcons with a game-high 23 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks. He scored Avon’s first eight points and had 14 of Avon’s 23 points at halftime. Laszewski had 10 points including seven in the fourth quarter.
“I was proud of our guys to remain composed,” Avon coach Chris Vozzolo said. “It could have gone the other way but it didn’t. We were only down five. It was OK. We told them to stick to what we do and execute and we did it.”
No. 10 Avon (16-6) advances to the second round on Wednesday night where they will host No. 24 Darien, which upset No. 7 Guilford, 71-56.
“We came out with more energy (in the fourth quarter) and talked about stopping them on defense,” McKearney said. “We were firing each other up.”
Avon led 23-22 at halftime but struggled mightily in the third quarter. They were 1-for-9 from the floor and turned the ball over eight times. Bulkeley (11-11) had four steals and three times they drove in for layups off those steals.
But Bulkeley couldn’t create enough separation. Sean Herrmann, who had a tough day handling the ball, drained three 3-point shots including a three-pointer with 58 seconds left in the third quarter to keep Avon close.
Bulkeley took a seven point lead, 34-27, when Malik Starks scored on a fast break off an Avon turnover.
On the next Avon possession, Herrmann’s shot bounced high off the rim and teammate John Burdick tipped the ball to keep the possession alive. McKearney ended up being fouled and sinking two free throws to cut the lead to five, 34-29 with 6:37 remaining.
Bulkeley’s Mason Miles scored with 5:23 remaining to extend the Bulldog lead to six, 36-30. McKearney cut the lead to four going to the basket after a nice pass from Herrmann.
On the defensive end, Herrmann forced a turnover and that led to Laszewski scoring inside off glass after a nice pass inside from Justin Reichler to cut the lead to two, 36-34 with 4:04 remaining.
With 2:56 to go, McKearney intercepted a Bulkeley pass, drove the length of the court and laid it up and in off the glass to tie the game at 36-36.
Miles added another bucket for the Bulldogs and Laszewski calmly sank two foul shots about 10 seconds later to tie the game 38-38.
“Our defense hung in there,” Vozzolo said. “We did a good job of getting back in transition. We have a good strong backline. Patrick did a good job controlling the boards and we played a solid 2-3 zone.”
It was the second highest scoring output of the season for McKearney, who had 28 points in a win over Stafford in January.
“Patrick played the entire 32 minutes as hard as he could,” Vozzolo said. “He was strong, athletic and physical. He owned the defensive glass.”
The Avon fans joined McKearney and his teammates in a celebration on the court after the final buzzer. “It was really special to beat a CCC (Central Connecticut Conference) team. It was a big win for our fans and our team,” he said.
Avon 43, Bulkeley 38
Bulkeley (38) Malik Starks 2-0-5, Javon Alston 1-0-2, Brandon Williams 1-0-2, Mason Miles 5-0-10, Jashar Haslam 3-2-8, Christian Gonzalez 1-0-2, Devante Davis 1-5-9. Totals 14-7-38
Avon (43) Brad Fisher 0-1-1, Sean Herrmann 3-0-9, Patrick McKearney 9-5-23, Jacob Sartain 0-0-0, Nate Laszewski 3-3-10, Justin Reichler 0-0-0, John Burdick 0-0-0, Jared Rosenblatt 0-0-0, Zach Stirling 0-0-0. Totals 15-9-43
Bulkeley (11-11) 13 8 10 6 – 38
Avon (16-6) 14 9 4 15 – 43
Three-point goals: Starks (B), Herrmann (A) 3, Laszewski (A)