WILTON - The New Britain boys basketballâ€™s team season came down to two lonely foul shots.
After thinking they had won the game after grabbing an offensive rebound on a missed free throw, the Hurricanes had to feel a brutal dose of powerlessness as they watched Wiltonâ€™s Kyle Hyzy shoot two free throws after New Britain was issued a technical foul for celebrating on the floor following the offensive rebound.
â€śI was surprised they made that call, but you canâ€™t be on the court,â€ť New Britain head coach Kurt Reis said.
The Hurricanes were back on the court moments later, celebrating a thrilling 64-63 win over the third-seeded Warriors (17-5) after Hyzy missed his first technical free throw, sending New Britain (18-5) to the Division II state semifinals - the programâ€™s first trip there since the Class LL semifinals in 2004 and after losing in the quarterfinals last year.
The Hurricanes will face No. 2 Glastonbury (19-3) on Tuesday night with a trip to Mohegan Sun on the line.
â€ś[Our players have] been through all kinds of ups and downs,â€ť Reis said after washing away any bad taste that lingered from last seasonâ€™s loss to Immaculate. â€śThey won this one, and thatâ€™s what matters.â€ť
Senior Kaiyon Gunn was on the bench for the majority of the second half with four fouls, but returned in a tight fourth quarter to come up with the biggest play of the game: a steal on a Wilton cross-court pass to set Gunn up for a driving layup to give New Britain a 64-62 lead with 15 seconds left.
â€śI knew where they were going (with the pass), so I overplayed a little and came up with the steal,â€ť Gunn said. â€śMy coaches and teammates told me to ease up [after getting four fouls] and trusted me to make a play.â€ť
The Hurricanesâ€™ late-game poise was much different than their composure early in the game, as the team made seven unforced turnovers in the opening period. But they settled down and came up big for Reis when it mattered most, in the closing minutes of a back and forth fourth quarter.
â€śWe were definitely feeling a little bit of nerves,â€ť Gunn said of the teamâ€™s mentality. â€śWe just started creating for ourselves and stopped worrying about the crowd.â€ť
Isaiah Jenkins, perhaps feeling some nerves to start the teamsâ€™ biggest game of the season, turned the ball over on the Hurricanesâ€™ first two possessions, including a badly missed 3-point attempt to help Wilton jump out to an early 6-0 lead.
Four straight points from Andrew Smith pushed the lead to eight with 1:30 left in the first, and the Warriors set their largest lead of the game at nine on the following possession with a 3-pointer from Tucker Walden.
A running jumper by Tahmeen Dupree to end the quarter closed the gap to seven and quietly set the tone for a dominant second quarter for New Britain.
â€śThatâ€™s the most points weâ€™ve given up in a quarter,â€ť Reis said. â€śThey scored 23 and then just 40 the rest of the way, so thatâ€™s what itâ€™s about, playing defense.â€ť
The Hurricanes looked more like themselves to start the second.
A powerful block from Shamah Charles led to a breakaway bucket for Maurice Turner, and the ensuing inbounds pass was stolen and put home by Gunn, forcing a timeout from Wilton, who watched its lead shrink to three in a matter of seconds.
Back to its usual self, the New Britain defense forced turnovers on five straight possessions to start the period, helping the offense rattle off a 12-0 run since end of first. Six straight points from Charles gave New Britain its first lead of the game.
Smith knocked down another triple to tie the game and end the Hurricanes run, but New Britain had propelled itself back into the game in an instant.
The score held tight through the first three minutes of the fourth until Smith knocked down his third triple of the night to tie the game. Smith misfired from beyond the arc on the Warriorsâ€™ next possession, but Hyzy was there for the offensive rebound to tip it in and give Wilton the lead.
The Warriors held a two-point lead with less than two minutes remaining in the quarter, when Charles fought his way inside for a layup to tie the game and set up a thrilling finish.
With 48 seconds left, Nick Kronenberg converted a wild layup with his back turned to the basket to ignite the home crowd and put Wilton up two, but Maurice Turner stormed down the floor and buried a layup to tie the game once again with 30 seconds to go, setting up hysteria for the Hurricanes and a date with Glastonbury.
NO. 6 NEW BRITAIN 64, NO. 3 WILTON 63
At Wilton, Division II state tournament quarterfinals
New Britain 16 24 12 12 - 64
Wilton 23 16 10 14 - 63
New Britain: Kaiyonn Gunn 4-1-9, Isaiah Jenkins 4-2-10, Maurice Turner 5-0-11, Tahmeen Dupree 5-0-12, Dashawn Clark 1-0-2, Nyzaiah Diaz 0-0-0, Luis Cartagena 0-1-1, Bryan Thompson 1-0-2, Shamah Charles 5-6-17. Totals: 25-10-64.
Wilton: Andrew Smith 6-0-15, Tucker Walden 2-3-8, Ryan Biberon 1-3-5, Nick Kronenberg 4-0-8, Kyle Hyzy 1-5-7, Zayvion Eusebe 6-4-18, Reilly Bingaman 1-0-2. Totals: 21-15-63.
Three-point goals: Tahmeen Dupree (NB) 2, Andrew Smith (W) 3, Tucker Walden (W), Zayvion Eusebe (W) 2, Isaiah Jenkins (NB), Maurice Turner (NB), Shamah Charles (NB).
Records: Wilton 17-5, New Britain 18-5.