HARTFORD, March 1 – Tight ballgames that make your heart skip a beat are nothing new to the Canton High boys basketball team.
The Warriors have let some victories slip away in losses to Sport Medicine Science Academy, Suffield and Hartford Classical. But Canton has also picked up some big wins in victories over SMSA, East Windsor and Granby on Saturday night in the quarterfinals of the NCCC Tournament.
Canton picked up a huge win Tuesday night.
Senior Cameron Lange sank two free throws with no time left on the clock at the end of regulation to force overtime, scored a basket in the lane with 8.5 seconds left to force a second overtime, drained a huge three-point shot from the top of the key with 30 seconds remaining to force a third overtime and scored a career-high 32 points to lead Canton into the NCCC Tournament championship game with a 74-68 win over Hartford Classical in triple overtime.
Classical, which shared the NCCC title with SMSA this winter, erased a six-point Canton lead in the fourth quarter and a five-point Warrior lead in the first OT session. But the Warriors refused to wilt.
“Cam said about 10 times in the game that we’re not losing,” Canton coach Craig Archambault said. “They’ve all stepped up. They believe in each other. They’re playing for each other. They’re doing a great job.”
Canton (16-6) advances to the NCCC Tournament championship game on Thursday night against East Windsor (16-7) at East Granby High at 7 p.m.
It is Canton’s first appearance in the tournament title game since 2009 and just their fourth-ever trip to the NCCC Tournament championship game. East Windsor went to double overtime to beat SMSA, 63-60. Classical (17-5) and SMSA (18-4) will meet in the tournament’s consolation game beginning at 5 p.m.
“We played here last Monday (at Classical) and lost by one,” Lange said. “It was a game we felt we should have won. Once, it got close down the stretch, we knew we wouldn’t lose. We played with confidence down the stretch. Everyone stepped up and the guys coming off the bench did their jobs perfectly.”
The lead changed throughout the game. Canton had its largest lead, 39-33 early in the fourth quarter but had to rally to force overtime. Down by four with two minutes remaining, Rieley Hoffman drove to the basket, was fouled and sank two foul shots. With 1:07 left, Hoffman intercepted a pass and fed Lange who drove to the basket and tied the game with 55 seconds remaining.
Classical’s Malike McKenzie (15 points) hit a jumper with 32 seconds left to give the Gladiators a 48-46 lead. Canton turned it over on its next possession but McKenzie missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 16 seconds left to give Canton one last chance. The Gladiators sank just 16-of-31 foul shots in the game.
Luke Brown fed Lange in the low post, who was fouled as the buzzed expired. Alone on the court and the Gladiator fans making as much noise as they could, Lange calmly sank both free throws to tie the game at 48-48 and force overtime.
When Lange was a freshman, he missed a free throw with five seconds left and the Warriors lost by a point against Somers. Now, he never leaves the gym without hitting consecutive free throws. “That’s why,” he said.
In the first OT, Ethan Burke hit a three-pointer for his first points of the game to give Canton a 51-48 lead. Lange tipped in a rebound with 2:33 remaining for a five-point lead. But Classical rallied with a 7-2 run to take a 57-55 lead with 27 seconds left on a fast break basket. With 8.5 seconds remaining, he scored in the lane off a pass from Brown to tie the game at 57-57.
Classical took a three-point lead in the second overtime, 61-58, with 48 seconds left. Lange came down and drained a three-pointer from the top of the key to tie the game. Classical’s Jameal Cushnie missed two free throws with 3.7 seconds to go.
In the third OT, Burke hit another three-point shot off a nice feed from Brown. About 30 seconds later, Brown drove through two defenders and placed the ball off glass to give Canton a 66-61 lead. Burke was scoreless in regulation but he had 10 points in the three overtime periods.
It was a one-point game with 47 seconds remaining after Classical’s Leroy Collier drained two free throws, cutting the Canton lead to 68-67. But the Gladiators never sank another field goal and Canton’s Adam Eytan and Lange each came up with two huge defensive rebounds.
The Warriors closed out the contest by going 6-for-6 on the free throw line in the final 23 seconds. Overall, Canton sank 22 of 26 free throws they took. Lange was 8-for-8 from the line, Hoffman was 9-of-10 while Jake Schaetzel was 5-of-6.
“We’ve been playing close games all season,” Lange said. “We’ve been on the winning side and we’ve been on the losing side. At this point, we’ve seen it all so nothing fazes us at all.”
Hoffman had 15 points while Schaetzel had 13 points. For Classical, Collier led the way for the Gladiators with 17 points while McKenzie and Tyreica Woods each had 15 points.
Azon Click and Eytan played well off the bench in OT. Hoffman fouled out with 1:12 left in the second OT and Brown fouled out with 2:25 left in the third OT. Even without their two primary ballhandlers, the Warriors came through.
“I told them it will come around,” Archambault said. “Just keep learning from it (closes losses) and it will bounce our way and bounce our way when it counts.”
Classical coach Reggie Tucker graduated from Canton in 1987 where he played for long-time coach Bill Mudano, who was in the stands for the game last night. “It felt like a state tournament game,” Tucker said. “It was a great high school basketball game. I can sleep tonight knowing that we had the opportunities to win, we just ran out of time.”
It was the fourth time that Canton has played a triple OT contest and the first since 2012 when the Warriors lost to Stafford, 72-62. Before Tuesday night, Canton’s last 3 OT win was in 2011 in a 73-66 victory over East Windsor. Canton’s record for most OT sessions is five in a 59-58 loss to Avon in January 1966.
NOTES: Canton is making its fourth appearance in the NCCC Tournament championship game. The Warriors also played in the final in 2009, 1996 and 1985. They have yet to win a tournament title. East Windsor returns to the NCCC final for the first time since 2014 when they beat Granby in overtime, 41-36. Prior to that appearance, the Panthers hadn’t been to the NCCC championship game since winning the 1983 contest.
Canton 74, Hartford Classical 68, 3 OT
Canton (74) Rieley Hoffman 3-9-15, Azon Click 0-0-0, Luke Brown 2-0-4, Jake Schatzel 4-5-13, Ethan Burke 4-0-10, Cameron Lange 10-8-32, Adam Etyan 0-0-0. Totals 23-22-74
Hartford Classical (68) Malik McKenzie 7-1-15, Leroy Collier 4-7-17, Tyreica Woods 6-0-15, Trevon Jengelly 1-0-2, Yafari Boland 0-0-0. Jameal Cushnie 3-6-12, Matt Sapiena 0-0-0, Danny Campbell 0-2-2, T.J. Sullivan 0-0-0. Totals 21-16-68
Canton (16-6) 12 10 13 12 9 4 13 — 74
Classical (17-5) 16 9 8 15 9 4 7 — 68
Three-point goals: Collier (HC) 2, Woods (HC) 3, Hoffman (C), Burke (C) 2, Lange (C) 4
Friday, Feb. 26
Ellington 60, Somers 50
East Windsor 57, Enfield 49
Saturday, Feb. 27
Hartford Classical 47, Ellington 45
Canton 59, Granby 51
East Windsor 54, Suffield 37
SMSA 62, Windsor Locks 50
Tuesday, March 1
Canton 74, Hartford Classical 68, 3 OT
East Windsor 63, SMSA 60, 2 OT
Thursday, March 3
Canton vs. East Windsor at East Granby, 7 p.m.
Classical vs. SMSA at East Granby, 5 p.m.