UNCASVILLE, Conn., March 17 – Amistad Academy had the Farmington High boys basketball team on their heels at halftime of Sunday’s CIAC Division III championship game at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
The No. 9 Wolves used their quickness to disrupt the Indian offense, force 11 turnovers and built a nine-point lead.
It wasn’t what the thousands of Farmington fans watching the Indians play in their first CIAC championship game in 80 years had expected.
No. 3 Farmington quickly turned it around. Jacob Smith promptly hit a three-point shot to open the third quarter. Two quick steals led to two baskets and gave Farmington their first lead of the contest in just 60 seconds, whipping the crowd into a frenzy.
It was the start of a 20-2 run that turned a nine-point halftime deficit into a nine-point Farmington lead and it put the Indians on the path to their first-ever state championship in basketball with an emotional 55-45 victory.
Farmington’s only two previous appearances in the state championship games in 1937 and 1939 had ended in defeat. And since 1950, the Indians had only advanced as far as the semifinals four times before beating Prince Tech-Hartford last week to earn the right to play for a championship.
“It is really the kids,” said Duane Witter, who is in his 21st season behind the bench with the Indians. “All year long, they’ve had really great character. We’ve been up and had to hold onto big leads. We’ve been down and had to come all the way back.”
In that pivotal third quarter, Farmington outscored the Wolves, 24-10. They forced 12 Amistad turnovers thanks to nine steals, including five from Jake Dunst, and four blocks from 6-foot-7 sophomore Bube Momah.
“It was crazy,” Farmington’s Jacob Smith said. “It was a surreal experience. We were all just synching and clicking as a team. It was a great turnaround.”
It was so quick and surprising considering the way that Amistad controlled the first half. Farmington made just 6-of-25 shots and had 11 turnovers in the first two quarters as the Wolves built a 25-16 lead.
“We turned the tables,” Witter said. “Our 1-3-1 trap has been our best defense all year and it seems my kids are enthusiastic about it. They really like to play it and it got us going.”
Smith’s three-point lead quickly cut the Amistad lead to six points. After the Wolves missed on a three-point shot, the Indians rebounded and quickly moved it up court to Smith for a layup to cut the lead to 25-21. Teammate Makhi Hawkins stole the ball in the forecourt and drove to the basket to cut the lead to two, 25-23.
This time, it was Momah with the steal and he drove to the basket to tie the game with 7:01 gone in the quarter. He was fouled on the play and sank the foul shot to give Farmington their first lead of the game, 26-25. It was 10 points in 59 seconds for the Indians.
“You have to fight for each other and play with all we got,” said Hawkins, who had a game-high 20 points. “In second half, we came out fired up and we couldn’t let them (score easily) so we played hard defensively and got the run we needed.”
Momah had a big dunk, Jake Dunst and Grayson Herr drained three-point shots as the Indians used a 20-2 run to take a 36-27 lead with 2:25 left in the third quarter.
Amistad (18-7) cut the lead back to one point on Cyprien Joseph’s layup with 6:04 left in the game, 42-41 but the Indians didn’t give up another field goal to the Wolves the remainder of the contest.
Leading by two with 2:56 left, the Indians quickly extended back to four when Momah took the inbounds pass and threw a length of the court pass to Grayson Herr for a layup with 2:52 left and a four-point lead, 47-43. The Wolves would not get any closer.
Hawkins led all scorers with 20 points, including a 10-of-11 performance from the free throw line while Momah had 16 points and a game-high 17 rebounds.
Amistad was led by Arthur Edwards with 15 points and 10 rebounds while Cyprien Joseph added 11 points.
The Indians were well aware of the victory was the first state title in basketball for a program that has been on the floor since the 1920s. “It feels surreal. I can’t believe this,” Hawkins said. “It’s crazy that we made history. It seems unbelievable. It’s just hard to explain.”
Earlier in his coaching career, Witter would go to the state championship games when they were hosted at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and obviously I have always dreamed about being part of this (championship) game,” Witter said. “Winning the game wasn’t part of the game. It was just being a part of the game. So, I have been dreaming about this my whole life. I am not trying to minimize it. It means everything to me and I am very happy.”
Farmington 55, Amistad 45
At Uncasville, Conn.
Amistad (45) Eli Blackwell 2-2-6, Arthur Edwards 7-0-15, Jaden Ratliff 2-0-4, Cyprien Joseph 4-2-11, Justin White 0-0-0, Kyle Hartley 0-0-0, Isaiah Joyner 2-5-9. Totals 17-65 9-13 45
Farmington (55) Makhi Hawkins 5-10-20, Jake Dunst 1-0-3, Jacob Smith 3-1-8, Grayson Herr 2-1-6, Bube Momah 5-6-16, Tristan Grande 0-0-0, Tyler Cortland 1-0-2. Totals 17-56 18-24 55
Amistad (18-7) 12 13 10 10 — 45
Farmington (24-4) 7 9 24 15 – 55
Three-point goals: Amistad – Blackwell 0-2, Edwards 1-6, Joseph 1-5, Hartley 0-1; Farmington—Hawkins 0-3, Dunst 1-6, Smith 1-2, Herr 1-4, Cortland 0-1; Rebounds: Farmington 49 (Momah 17, Herr 11), Amistad 41 (Edwards 10); Assists: Farmington 7 (Herr 3), Amistad 8 (Edwards 5); Steals: Amistad 11 (Blackwell 5); Farmington 11 (Dunst 5); Blocks: Farmington 6 (Momah 4), Amistad 4 (Edwards 2, Ratliff 2)