UNCASVILLE, Conn., March 16 – The Granby Memorial boys basketball team played several challenging opponents this season – Simsbury, which went to the CIAC Division I tournament, Career-New Haven, Ledyard and conference rivals Hartford Classical and Ellington.
But they hadn’t seen defensive pressure like they saw in the third quarter of Saturday’s Division IV championship game at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
After allowing Granby to score six field goals from the floor in the first quarter, New Canaan allowed just seven in the remaining three quarters as the Rams won their first CIAC state championship since 1962 with a 55-39 win over the Bears.
Granby had a four-point lead after one quarter, 15-9, and that quickly evaporated with three consecutive three-point shots from the Rams. New Canaan led by five at halftime, 26-21 but blew out the Bears in the third quarter with a 13-2 run to begin the second half.
New Canaan (20-5) forced nine Granby turnovers in the third quarter and five came off steals as a five-point halftime lead swelling to 19 points.
“I underestimated their pressure,” Granby coach Walter Hansen said. “I didn’t expect that and I could have done a better job. We could have done a better handling their pressure but that third quarter pressure was the difference.”
That Ram pressure was forged in the fires of the FCIAC where the Rams hone their skills against some of the largest and most competitive teams in the state. New Canaan went 16-4 in the regular season.
“(Granby) is a good team and they got off to a good start. I told our team at halftime that we took their best punch,” New Canaan coach Danny Melzer said. “Like we have all year, we didn’t flinch. Our game plan was to wear them down. In the third quarter, we turned up the pressure and got them to play faster than they wanted to play. We got out in transition where we are at our best.”
New Canaan forced 22 Granby turnovers in the game and 10 came off steals.
Granby (23-4), playing in their second state title game, got off to a good start with a 9-1 run to open the contest. James Shelansky scored on a layup eight seconds into the game and added a three-point shot less than a minute later for a 5-0 lead.
Elliyas Delaire hit a jumper and Rowan Heinze scored on a layup with 4:27 remaining for a 9-1 advantage. Three consecutive Granby turnovers led to three baskets by the Rams who cut the lead to two points, 9-7.
A layup from Heinze with 1:03 left and a pair of foul shots from Delaire gave Granby their biggest lead of the game, 15-9 at the end of the quarter.
A pair of three-point shots from New Canaan’s Ben Sarda and another trey from teammate Alexander Gibbens put the Rams ahead for the first time early in the second quarter, 18-15.
Heinze sank a foul shot and Shelansky hit a three-point shot with 3:50 left in the second quarter to give Granby a 19-18 lead – the final lead of the contest.
Gibbens led the Rams with 13 points while Matthew Brand scored 12 and Ryan McAleer added 11 points. The Bears were led by Heinze with 13 points with Shelansky scoring 10 points. Delaire chipped with seven points.
“(New Canaan) was a very good basketball team,” Hansen said. “They knew how to share the basketball. They set screens. They run good stuff. They are disciplined defensively.”
Granby, which brought a large and vocal cheering section, saw their run end at the Mohegan Sun Arena. The Bears went 17-3 this season and finished second in the NCCC with a 15-1 record after dropping their regular season finale to Hartford Classical, 68-64.
But Granby rebounded with three strong victories to capture the NCCC Tournament for the first time since 2006 with a dominating win over Ellington. And the run to the Sun included an overtime win over Ellington in the quarterfinals and a satisfying win over Classical in the semifinals. The Bears were down by five points at halftime to Classical in the semifinals but rallied for a 70-62 victory.
“It was an amazing run,” Hansen said. “There will be some sad seniors in the locker room as there are the end of each season. It was an awesome run. I’m glad the kids got to experience it. We would have liked to have won a state championship. We thought we could. But it was an awesome, awesome run.”
New Canaan 55, Granby 39
New Canaan (55) Matthew Brand 3-6-12, Ben Sarda 3-0-8, Ryan McAleer 4-3-11, Stephen Wronski 0-1-1, Jack Richardson 2-0-4, Aaron Fishman 0-0-0, Brandon Sechan 0-0-0, Alexander Gibbens 5-0-13, Christian Sweeney 0-0-0, Luke Rwambuya 1-2-4, Will Bozzella 0-0-0, Leo Magnus 1-0-2, Conor West 0-0-0, Jonathan Hall 0-0-0, Henry Pohle 0-0-0. Totals 19-44 12-17 55
Granby (39) Elliyas Delair 1-5-7, Dylan Disabella 1-0-2, Rowan Heinze 5-3-13, James Shelansky 3-2-10, Peyton Large 0-0-0, Jack DeGray 0-0-0, Daniel Pierce 2-0-4, Parker Hansen 0-0-0, Ryan Gemme 1-0-3. Totals 13-32 10-19
New Canaan (20-5) 9 17 18 11 — 55
Granby (23-4) 15 6 8 10 – 39
Three-point goals: New Canaan – Brand 0-1, Sarda 2-7, Richardson 0-1, Gibbens 3-3, Rwambuya 0-1; Granby – Delaire 0-1, Heinze 0-2, Shelansky 2-3, Gemme 1-3; Rebounds: New Canaan 25 (Richardson 4), Granby 26 (Heinze 7); Assists: New Canaan 11 (Rwambuya 4), Granby 3 (Delaire, Large, DeGray); Steals: New Canaan 10 (Rwambuya 4), Granby 4 (Delaire, Heinze, Shelansky, Large); Blocks: Granby 6 (Heinze 3)