NEW BRITAIN - It was a tale of two halves for the CT Heat (New Britain) in the opening round of the Nutmeg Games 14U boys basketball tournament.
After jumping out to an early 24-19 lead in the first half, the Heat were outscored by 13 points in the second half, falling to Vale (Middletown) 47-39 at New Britain High School Wednesday night.
“I think we just ran out of gas,” CT Heat head coach Joel Feehan said. “I think our last tournament for the AAU season was the middle of June and I think the kids just enjoyed their summer and really haven’t picked up a basketball. You could tell we had a lot of cobwebs.”
Vale took advantage of mistakes the CT Heat made all game long. After focusing on the long-range shooting in the first half, Vale drove to the paint much more in the second half. In doing so, Vale was in the bonus with nearly three minutes left in the game, which led to nine free points in that time span.
“What helped play in to that was us switching to man-to-man [defense],” Feehan said. “Our defenders were playing four-to-five feet off their guys - we weren’t denying the ball - which gave them the ability to drive and make the extra pass.”
New Britain also had 13 turnovers in the game. Combine that with what Feehan thought were several missed open shots, the coach said his team left a lot of points on the floor.
“We probably missed 25, close to 30 layups this game,” Feehan said. “When you’re playing tough competition like this, you can’t miss that many. Even if we make 50 percent of those layups, we win the game going away.”
One highlight on New Britain was point guard Nasir Walker-Jenkins. He had nine points in the game on 4-of-9 shooting, adding three assists and two rebounds.
“That’s what a lot of people expect me to do,” Walker-Jenkins said of his activity in the offense. “I’m a scoring machine and as the point guard, I try to run the offense.”
Walker-Jenkins was also solid defensively, grabbing four of the team’s eight steals.
“[Feehan] kept telling me to use my arms,” the point guard said. “I have really long arms, so it’s really easy for me to pick off a pass or reach around a guy for the ball.”
Forward Manassah DaLomba had a solid game off the bench for the Heat, notching 10 points and six rebounds. However, all of his points and all but two of his rebounds came in the first half - a sign of the second half struggles up and down the roster.
While it is only the first game of the tournament, Feehan knows his team has a lot to work on if it wants a chance to get into either medal game Sunday.
“Ball movement is definitely a key,” Feehan said of the improvements the team needs to make. “We also have very good shooters that, for whatever reason, weren’t in any type of a flow. So we certainly need those shooters to step up.”
Tyler Roaix can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org