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Classical puts the squeeze on Canton to earn spot in NCCC Tournament final

Canton’s Luke Brown tries to find some open space in Wednesday night’s NCCC Tournament semifinal loss to Hartford Classical.

CANTON, February 28 – For the third consecutive year, the Canton boys basketball team faced off with Hartford Classical in the NCCC Tournament semifinals.

Two years ago, the Warriors prevailed in a triple overtime classic in Hartford. A year ago, Classical built big leads and beat Canton by one point in a game that is most remembered for the Canton students taunting the Classical team and fans.

This year, Classical used their defense to clamp down on the NCCC co-champions in a 61-56 victory to earn a spot in Friday’s NCCC Tournament championship game against Granby. The Bears ousted NCCC co-champion SMSA in overtime Wednesday, 51-43.

Classical (16-6) had leads as high as 13 points as they shut down Canton’s inside game. The Warriors (18-4) scored twelve 3-point field goals to remain in the game but it wasn’t enough.

The visiting Gladiators lost three of their final four regular season games. Head coach Reggie Tucker noticed that his team was expending a lot of energy with full court pressure. So, they adjusted. Classical put the defensive pressure on at halfcourt. They frequently double or triple-teamed the Canton player with the ball in the paint and the Gladiators rebounded very well.

“We beat the No. 1 team in the conference,” Tucker said. “This is the third year we’ve played them (in the semifinals). It’s always a battle. I will be pleased until midnight and then we have to focus on Granby.”

Robert Simmons and Danny Campbell each had 16 points for Classical while Tyreice Woods added 12 points.

“Like last year, we dug ourselves a hole,” Canton coach Craig Archambault said. A year ago, Canton trailed Classical by 10 points with 6:40 remaining and was down by 11 points with 2:43 left in the game before losing by one.

“We’ve talked about how we don’t like to play from behind,” he said. “We like to play with the lead. But we never quit. I was proud of how hard we played. Credit to Classical. They are really well coached and they played very well tonight. They will make us better. We love playing against them.”

Matt Rose draws a crowd — the entire Gladiator team — as he tries to get to the basket in Wednesday night’s to Hartford Classical.

Jack Rose led Canton with 15 points off the bench with five 3-point goals. Grant Lange, also off the bench, added 11 points with three 3-point shots. Luke Brown added 10 with a pair of 3-point goals.

Brown hit a three-point shot with three minutes left in the first quarter to give Canton a 9-7 lead. However, Classical went on a 19-6 run to take command of the game with Simmons scoring 10 points in the run. The only Canton points came on three-point shots from Jack Mansur and Brown.

The lead swelled as large as 13 points in the second half. But Canton kept swinging. Classical led by 10 with 5:33 remaining but Lange drained a three-point shot with 4:50 left after Brown chased down a loose ball rebound and fed it back to Lange.

After a Brown block at the other end of the floor, Brown drove to the basket past two defenders for a layup to cut the Classical lead to five points, 45-40 with 4:24 remaining.

But that is as close as the Warriors would get. Classical responded with six straight points to take a comfortable 11-point lead. Canton had one shot roll off the rim, threw the ball away and had three shots on a single possession but couldn’t score.

Canton now awaits their first opponent in next week’s CIAC Division V state tournament. The seedings were released Wednesday and Canton is seeded No. 2 behind undefeated East Hampton. The Warriors will host a second round game on Wednesday at 7 p.m. against either No. 15 Somers or No. 18 Lyman Memorial.

“That was the main message in the locker room,” Archambault said. “Conference tournaments are great but we really have our sights on bigger things. That’s been one of our goals from the beginning – make a run in the states. We’ll use this as fuel, as motivation. This will sting. But when we meet in the gym next, it’s all eyes on the state tournament.”

Canton’s Jack Mansur tries to get to the basket in Wednesday night’s loss to Hartford Classical.

NOTES: Classical is playing in the NCCC Tournament final for the second straight year. The Gladiators lost to SMSA a year ago in the final, 66-50. Classical is looking for their first NCCC Tournament championship. … Granby is making their first NCCC Tournament final since 2014 when the Bears lost to East Windsor in overtime. The last time that Granby won a NCCC Tournament final was in 2006. That was their first and only NCCC Tournament crown. … Canton played in the 2016 NCCC Tournament final, losing to East Windsor on a buzzer-beating jumper.

Hartford Classical 61, Canton 56
At Canton
Classical (61) Tyreice Woods 4 2-2 12, Justice Carter 1 2-4 4, Dahsan King 3 0-0 7, Luis Molina 1-0-2, Tyreese Woods 0-0-0, Traimell Frank 1-0-2, Jarred Griffin 1-0-2, Robert Simmons 5 6-6 16, Danny Campbell 6 4-4 16, Justin Oller 0-0-0. Totals 21 14-16 61
Canton (56) Luke Brown 4-0-10, Jack Mansur 1-0-3, Ryan Enns 4 0-2 8, Grant Lange 4-0-11, Tim Keating 1-0-2, Matt Rose 0-0-0, Mitchell Cormier 1 2-2 4, Jack Rose 5-0-15, Logan Mansur 1-0-3. Totals 17 2-4 56
Classical (16-6)        11  15  13  22 — 61
Canton (18-4)            9    6  15  26 – 56
Three-point goals: Tyreice Woods (HC) 2, King (HC), Brown (Ca) 2, Lange (Ca) 3, Jack Rose (Ca) 5, Jack Mansur (Ca), Logan Mansur (Ca)

2018 NCCC boys basketball tournament
First round
Wednesday, Feb. 21
Game 1: (9) HMTCA 73, (8) East Windsor 69
Game 2: (7) Ellington 53, (10) Somers 45
Game 3: (11) Bolton 58, (6) Windsor Locks 53

Quarterfinals
Friday, Feb. 23
(1) Canton 55, HMTCA 43
(5) Hartford Classical 68, (4) Rockville 64, OT
(3) Granby 36, Bolton 33
(2) SMSA 75, (7) Ellington 73

Semifinals
Wednesday, February 28
Hartford Classical 61, Canton 56
Granby 51, SMSA 43, OT

Championship
Friday, March 2
Hartford Classical at Granby, 7 p.m.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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