CANTON, Dec. 22, 2022 – It’s been a while since all four bleachers at Canton High were opened up for a boys basketball game and filled with fans. The last time was probably in the NCCC Tournament championship final against Granby in March 2020 – a few days before the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping across the country.
There was a sense of anticipation in the gym with Avon and Canton renewing their long-standing rivalry in boys basketball for the first time since 2019. There were vocal student sections for both teams.
But Avon has been tested in their first two games of the season. The Falcons dropped a 81-69 decision to an athletic Bloomfield team and were dominated by East Catholic, the No. 1 ranked team in the state last Saturday, 85-31.
Those two games were played at a different speed and Canton got a taste of it on Thursday night as the Falcons beat the Warriors, 50-33. Avon put plenty of pressure on the ball and their quicker hands forced numerous turnovers. Canton seldom had an open shot, which helps explain a poor shooting percentage from the floor.
“I will find out what (our shooting percentage) it is tomorrow and then burn it,” Canton coach Craig Archambault said.
“When you play an East Catholic, it toughens you up,” Avon High coach Kris Pedra said. “Our conference certainly gets us ready for a game like this.”
Archambault knew his Warriors would be challenged by the Falcons. That is why he agreed to play the game.
“In the long run, it helps us learn, grow and identify areas for improvement,” he said. “It is something to build on.”
Even so, it was a tough loss for the Canton squad to endure. They played well in their season-opening win over Litchfield earlier in the week and with five returning senior starters and another three seniors coming off the bench, the Warriors are looking for success this season.
They will be challenged by SMSA, Ellington and Suffield in the NCCC and by Weaver, Cromwell, Brookfield and Ellington in the CIAC Division IV tournament.
“They are a group that like each other and their chemistry is very good,” Archambault said. “They play incredibly hard. They are kids that never quit. A lot of them are soccer and football players and they have had success in other sports.”
It wasn’t enough on this evening against Avon (1-2). Issac Aguilar, who had 31 points against Bloomfield last week, led the Falcons with 15 points while Luke Coppen added 12 and Ryan Heuer chipped in with 11 points. Avon hit four 3-point shots.
“We don’t have a group with a lot of varsity experience,” Pedra said. “Only Issac has been a starter in the past. Everyone else really has never played varsity basketball. There is a little bit of a learning curve to this group, which is fine. The problem is that we don’t have a lot of time to learn especially with Simsbury, Glastonbury and East Hartford so they have to grow up quick.”
Avon faces Simsbury on Friday at 2 p.m. and then faces Class LL squads East Hartford and Glastonbury the first week in January.
Matthew Bendetti led all scorers with 16 points for Canton while Brandon Powell added six.
Avon led 10-6 after one quarter and extended the lead to 10, thanks to a drive to the basket from Heuer, a drive and basket from Coppen and other basket from Heuer.
Canton (1-1) cut the lead to four on baskets from Maher and Benedetti but Avon went on a 13-0 run to take command of the game with Coppen scoring eight points in the run.
The Warriors cut the lead to seven points on a basket in the lane from Benedetti, 38-31, with 5:37 remaining in the game but the Falcons gave up just one more field goal and outscored Canton, 12-2 over the final five minutes to secure the win.
“We didn’t make shots or free throws and Avon did. That is what it came down to,” Archambault said. Avon has won 17 of the last 18 games in the 115-game series that began in December 1959. Canton’s last win over the Falcons came in 2016.
The Warriors return to action on Wednesday, Dec. 28, when they host their first boys basketball holiday tournament since the late 1970s. Canton hosts Wamogo in the feature game at 7 p.m. with Lewis Mills and Suffield meeting in the matinee at 5 p.m. The winners play for the title on Friday, Dec. 30, in Canton at 7 p.m. with the consolation game at 5 p.m.
Avon 50, Canton 33
Avon (50) Luke Coppen 3-6-12, Issac Aguilar 6-2-15, Joe Vitkaustics 0-0-0, Parker Jose 2-0-5, Ryan Heuer 4-2-11, Harrison Srb 1-0-3, Ryan St. Onge 0-2-2, Raveend Chandramohan 1-0-2. Totals 17-12-50
Canton (33) Taylor Kim 1-0-2, Khalil Thomas 0-0-0, Ben Cuniowski 0-0-0, Brandon Powell 2-2-6, Jake Dean 2-0-5, Matthew Benedetti 8-0-16, Ryan Cuniowski 0-0-0, Ryan Benedetti 0-0-0, Luke Maher 2-0-4. Totals 15-2-33
Avon (1-2) 10 19 9 12 — 50
Canton (1-1) 6 11 10 6 — 33
Three-point goals: Aguilar (A), Jose (A), Heuer (A), Srb (A), Dean (C)