CANTON, March 6 – The Canton High gym was loud and full on Friday night for the North Central Connecticut Conference tournament championship game. For the first time in a long time, all four bleachers were pulled out for spectators and they were full.
Boisterous fans from Canton and rival Granby each filled a section of the bleachers and neither was shy about rooting on their classmates.
“It was amazing,” Granby coach Walter Hansen said. “I couldn’t wait to get here because I knew all four sets of bleachers would be out. I knew it would be loud, intense and fans were on top of us. No could hear me but this is what it is about. This is what you try to get to in the post season.”
And they saw an wildly entertaining contest. Granby cut Canton’s lead to two points with 43.8 seconds remaining but the Warriors sank five of eight free throws in the final 22.8 seconds to lift Canton to a 56-49 victory and their first-ever conference tournament title.
Canton (21-2) had fallen short in their first four appearances in the NCCC Tournament final, including a heartbreaking loss to East Windsor on a 30-foot shot at the buzzer that banked in off the backboard in 2016. In their history that dates back nearly 100 years, the Warriors have won two state championships but have never captured a conference tournament.
“In 2016, we lost to East Windsor on a half-court shot at the buzzer,” Canton High coach Craig Archambault said. “It told these kids to play for everyone in the past. For every guy who almost got there. We’re at home and this is our night.”
As when the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Canton players celebrated at midcourt joined by dozens of their fellow classmates who swarmed out of the stands.
Canton’s Josh Burke led all scorers with 21 points, including four 3-point shots, with Matt Rose getting 14 hard-earned points in the paint. Jack Rose had nine points and pulled down some key rebounds.
All-NCCC forward Rowan Heinze led the Bears with 17 points, scoring 11 points in the second half as he tried to keep his team in the game. Joshua Brown added 11 for the Bears (14-9).
“We put ourselves in a position to win but in the end, they made a few more plays than we did,” Hansen said. “(Canton) has a lot of weapons. (Matt) Rose is so tough inside. He is unselfish, knows where to pick his spots and his post moves are fantastic. Burke made some tough (three-point shots).”
It was the most points in a game for Burke since he had a career-high 28 points in a win over HMTCA in late January.
Lost amid the celebration was a solid defensive effort by the Warriors that including pulling down key rebounds.
“That is something we pride ourselves on and is one of the most underrated parts of our game,” Burke said. “At lot of people like to look at our shooting, our stats and our record but don’t look at the work we put in day in and day out. We pride ourselves on our defense.”
Leading by two points with 22.8 seconds remaining, Burke hit a free throw to push the lead to three, 52-49. Burke’s second shot rolled off the rim but it was Jack Rose who outfought Heinze for the rebound and four seconds later, Burke was on the free throw line again.
Burke sank both free throws with 18.3 seconds left to push the lead to five points, 54-49.
“Rebounding was key,” Archambault said. “We didn’t give up too many second chances and that was huge.”
The Warriors were hosting the championship game thanks to outstanding semifinal performances by both teams. No. 3 Canton played solid defense to beat No. 2 Somers while No. 4 Granby upset league champion SMSA on Tuesday.
In the title game, the Bears had a one-point lead, 16-15, early in the second quarter when Justin Phillips a hit a three-point shot. Granby converted on eight 3-point shots in the contest.
But Canton used a 10-0 surge to take the lead for good.
Matt Rose scored in the lane, was fouled and sank the free throw for a three-point play. Jack Rose scored in the lane off a nice assist from his brother, Matt. About 30 seconds later, Matt Rose pulled down an offensive rebound and put it back into the basket before Colin Mackin hit a three-point shot from the corner for a 25-16 Warrior lead.
Granby would cut the Canton lead throughout the game but couldn’t regain the lead again.
The Bears used an 8-2 run to cut the lead to three points with 1:35 left in the second quarter sparked by another three-point shot from Phillips and a nice drive to the basket from Brown. A basket from Heinze with 58 seconds left in the first half cut Canton’s halftime lead to four points, 30-26.
In the third quarter, Burke hit two three-point shots in the first two minutes of the half to allow the Warrior lead to grow to eight.
Canton led by seven early in the fourth quarter before Granby again trimmed the lead. Heinze scored between two defenders to reduce the lead to five and after a steal by Phillips, Brown sank a three-point shot with 6:14 remaining to cut the Canton lead to two, 45-43.
The two teams played hard. Heinze was wide open at the top of the key for a three-point shot with 3:40 remaining but he missed and it was Jack Rose who pulled down the rebound.
Canton’s Ryan McGoldrick drove to the basket with 3:12 left to extend Canton’s lead to four, 47-43. Jack Rose hit a pair of free throws with 2:27 left to push the lead to six, 49-43. The lead was seven after Burke scored in the lane off a nice feed from guard Chris Tenczar with 2:01 remaining, 51-44.
But Granby – the defending NCCC Tournament champion who went to the CIAC Division IV finals a year ago – wouldn’t quit. John Bell drove to the basket with 1:41 remaining to cut the lead to five.
Tenczar missed on the front end of a one-and-one free throw opportunity with 1:10 remaining and it was Heinze who hit a three-point shot with 43.8 seconds left to cut the lead to two, 51-49.
“I thought it was a pretty good game,” Hansen said. “Guys were playing really really hard and trying to win the game.”
Matt Rose was named to the All-Tournament team and named the most valuable player of the tournament.
“We came into this game knowing nothing was going to stop us from coming out with a win,” he said. “Before the game we had a players-only (meeting). We told each other that we loved each other no matter what. We just had to work on our 2-3 zone (defensively). We had an emphasis on finding people and boxing out (to get rebounds).”
After the gym cleared out and most of the fans had left, the Warriors were still together with their families. A tall ladder was brought into the gym and each of the Warriors were able to cut down the nets. Each player got a snippet of the net to take to take home with them — a perfect end to a historic and satisfying evening.
NOTES: Canton was 0-4 for the finals of the NCCC Tournament before Friday. Not only did they lose to East Windsor in 2016 on that buzzer-beating shot but they lost to Avon in 2009. In that year, Canton went 19-1 in regular season with their lone defeat coming to the Falcons. Canton also lost in the NCCC finals to Windsor Locks (1996) and Suffield (1985).
The Warriors also fell in three Northwest Conference contests in 1982, 1981 and 1977 when the league was split up into two divisions. The two division champions would meet in a one-game playoff. Canton was in the Northwest Conference Division II with the smaller teams in the league such as Avon, Lewis Mills, Gilbert and Wolcott Tech-Torrington. Division I had the larger schools in the Northwest Conference such as Middletown, Farmington, Plainville and Wilcox Tech of Meriden.
It was the third game of the year between Granby and Canton. Granby won the first game on January 24, 58-53 on their home floor, snapping Canton’s 11-game season-opening winning streak. In game two, the Warriors beat the Bears on February 13 in Canton, 60-51. The two teams could meet for a fourth time if both teams reach the CIAC Division IV tournament championship game. The Bears are seeded 10th and in the opposite bracket of the Warriors.
Canton is the top seed in the upcoming Division IV tournament with their 18-2 record. They will play the winner of Tuesday night’s first round game between No. 16 Ansonia (12-8) and No. 17 Academy of Aerospace and Engineering-Windsor (12-8) on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in Canton. Granby hosts Wilby (9-11) in a first round game on Tuesday.
Canton 56, Granby 49
Granby (49) Justin Phillips 3-0-8, John Bell 2-0-4, Dylan Disabella 1-0-3, Kameron Dear 2-0-6, Joshua Brown 1 1-2 11, Rowan Heinze 5 6-9 18, Jack DeGray 0-0-0. Totals 17 7-11 49
Canton (56) Chris Tenczar 2-0-5, Colin Makin 1-0-3, Matt Rose 6 2-4 14, Silas Sawtelle 1-0-2, Josh Burke 7 3-5 21, Ryan McGoldrick 1 0-2 2, Jack Rose 3 3-3 9. Totals 21 8-14 56
Granby (14-9) 13 13 12 11 — 49
Canton (21-2) 13 17 13 13 — 56
Three-point goals: Phillips (G) 2, Dear (G) 2, Brown (G) 2, Heinze (G); Tenczar (Ca), Makin (Ca), Burke (Ca) 4
Aiden Miller, Somers; Alsharif Bogar, SMSA; Rowan Heinze, Granby; Josh Brown, Granby; Jack Rose, Canton; Chris Tenczar, Canton; MVP: Matt Rose, Canton
2020 NCCC boys basketball tournament
Wednesday, February 26
Game 1: (7) Ellington 70, (10) Stafford 48
Game 2: (11) Coventry 45, (6) Suffield 41
Game 3: (9) Rockville 64, (8) Hartford Classical 46
Friday, February 28
Game 4: (1) SMSA 61, Ellington 53
Game 5: (4) Granby 57, (5) HMTCA 49
Game 6: (3) Canton 66, Coventry 34
Game 7: (2) Somers 62, Rockville 52
Tuesday, March 3
Game 8: Granby 60, SMSA 56
Game 9: Canton 64, Somers 53
Friday, March 6
Canton 56, Granby 49
Recent NCCC championship games
2019: Granby 50, Ellington 39
2018: Hartford Classical 50, Granby 47
2017: SMSA 66, Classical 50
2016: East Windsor 57, Canton 54
2015: Avon 48, SMSA 44
2014: East Windsor 41, Granby 36, OT
2013: Avon 71, Granby 36
2012: Enfield 67, Coventry 35
2011: Enfield 71, Avon 52
2010: Enfield 43, Ellington 39
2009: Avon 71, Canton 55
2008: Coventry 56, Avon 52
2007: Avon 59, Granby 52
2006: Granby 45, Tolland 43
2005: Avon 58, Enfield 40
2004: Tolland 41, Avon 27
2003: Avon 56, Windsor Locks 51
2002: Suffield 43, Tolland 43
2001: Windsor Locks 53, East Granby 51
2000: Avon 77, Ellington 69
2020 Final NCCC boys basketball standings
x-won league championship
Aidan O’Brien, Bolton; Matt Rose, Canton; Josh Burke, Canton, Matt Rivera, Classical; Josh Smith, Classical; D.J. Fleming, Coventry; Ryan Zahner, Ellington; Gavin Laughlin, Ellington; Rowan Heinze, Granby; Jack Degray, Granby; Alex D’Attillo, HMTCA; Demir Kandic, HMTCA; Alex Deane, Rockville; Elon Munroe, SMSA; Uhki Greene, SMSA: Alex Baressi, Somers; Derek Hostetler, Somers; Brady Palazzesi, Somers; Owen Liss, Suffield; Josh Mudano, Suffield