EAST GRANBY, March 1, 2023 – The Canton High boys basketball team had a tough time getting shots to the rim in Wednesday’s NCCC Tournament semifinal against No. 4 seed Ellington.
The Purple Knights simply wouldn’t allow it. Ellington had quick hands that forced several turnovers and had the defensive position and the jumping ability to block multiple Canton shots.
All-NCCC guard Elijah Miller was never far from the side of Canton’s top scorer Brandon Powell, who was held to just 10 points.
At the other end of the floor, Miller was fluid and special with a game-high 27 points as Ellington beat No. 1 seeded Canton, 49-37 to earn a spot in Thursday night’s NCCC Tournament championship game against SMSA at 7 p.m. in East Granby.
No. 3 SMSA beat No. 2 Windsor Locks, who shared the regular season championship with Canton, in the other semifinal contest, 51-45.
“Miller really hurt us at both ends of the floor,” Canton coach Craig Archambault said. “He is one of the best players in the league and he was phenomenal tonight. He hit tough shots and played great defense. He got things going (for Ellington).”
Miller had multiple blocks on multiple Canton players, including Powell.
Ellington (19-3) had a three-point lead after one quarter, 12-9 when Miller converted off a Canton turnovers to boost the lead to five points. After the Knights pulled down a defensive rebound, Miller was off to the races and scored on a layup to push the lead to seven points, 16-9.
Canton’s Jayden Young hit a three-point shot after a nice dish from Powell to slash the lead to four but Miller drained a three-point shot from the corner. After Canton’s Ben Cuniowski hit a jumper on the baseline to cut the Ellington lead to five, Miller hit another three-point shot to boost the lead to eight, 22-14.
Ellington finished out the first half with a three-point shot at the buzzer to boost the lead to 10.
The Purple Knights outscored Canton, 12-2 in the first five minutes of the third quarter to take control of this contest. Ellington led by as many as 20 points.
“Early in the game, we got some looks we just missed some easy ones,” Archambault said. “If finish those, perhaps it is a different start. A team like that does such a good job pinching on Brandon and eliminating his drives and anything in the paint, we needed other guys to step up.”
Powell had plenty of potential assists but his teammates couldn’t convert on this evening.
“We couldn’t capitalize on our opportunities,” Archambault said. “I thought we offensive rebounded well in the first half. We left some points on the floor.”
Ben Cuniowski had eight points for Canton while Jayden Young added seven. Darren Zahner had eight points for Ellington while Cody Murphy and Caden Brown added six points each. The Purple Knights drained six three-point shots.
Canton (13-9) learned about their CIAC Division IV draw. The Warriors were seeded 15th will play No. 18 Somers for the third time this season next Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Canton.
With a win, Canton would have another shot at No. 2 Wamogo (18-2), who beat Canton in December in the Litchfield Hills Holiday Classic.
Ellington is facing SMSA in the NCCC Tournament final for the second straight year. A year ago, the Gladiators beat Ellington, 58-51. The Purple Knights are looking for their first NCCC Tournament title since 1982. The Knights have dropped their last six NCCC Tournament title games.
Ellington 49, Canton 37
At East Granby
Ellington (49) Elijah Miller 10-4-27, Cody Murphy 2-0-6, Caden Brown 2-1-6, Bradley Sanka 0-0-0, Cam Thomas 0-0-0, Kevin Descroucher 0-2-2, Darren Zahner 3-0-8. Totals 17-7
Canton (37) Taylor Kim 2-0-5, Khalil Thomas 1-1-3, Ben Cuniowski 3-2-8, Brandon Powell 2-6-10, Jake Dean 0-0-0, Matthew Benedetti 1-0-2, Jayden Young 2-2-7, Ryan Bendetti 1-0-2. Totals 12-11
Ellington (19-3) 12 13 15 9 — 49
Canton (13-9) 9 6 10 12 — 37
Three-point goals: Miller (Ell), Murphy (Ell), Brown (Ell), Zahnher (Ell) 2, Kim (Ca), Young (Ca)