NEW BRITAIN - Before the euphoria of the New Britain boys basketball teamâ€™s thrilling win over Wilton in the Division II state tournament quarterfinals wore off, word was spreading about who the Hurricanes would face next in the semifinals, where a trip to Mohegan Sun Arena and the state tournament final would be on the line.
As parents watched the New Britain players celebrating on the court in front of a shocked Warriors crowd, they pulled out their phones and began to pass along the message: No. 2 Glastonbury had squeaked by No. 7 Bunnell, 74-69, and would be taking on the Hurricanes Tuesday night in North Haven.
The news wasnâ€™t much of a surprise to sixth-seeded New Britain (18-5). The Tomahawks, a fellow CCC squad, will enter Tuesdayâ€™s match at 19-3 on the season, representing one of the Hurricanesâ€™ toughest opponents so far this season.
â€śI know everything about them,â€ť junior Tahmeen Dupree said of New Britainâ€™s upcoming competition. â€śTheyâ€™re really, really good. They play smart. It will be a tough battle, but anything can happen. Iâ€™m not fazed, really.â€ť
The Hurricanes may be riding a wave of confidence after going into a hostile Wilton gym and pulling off an upset with a go-ahead basket by Kaiyonn Gunn off a steal with 15 seconds left, but they also know that while confidence is high, their performance will have to match that confidence if they are to advance to the state final.
Head coach Kurt Reis knows his team can pull off a second straight upset, but to do so, heâ€™ll have to see his team at its best for four quarters, and not scrambling to erase a tough start like New Britain was forced to do on Friday.
â€śWe just have to be consistent throughout the whole game,â€ť Reis said. â€śWe played well [on Friday] for bits and pieces, but we need to play our best for 32 minutes. We canâ€™t have those lulls where weâ€™re not scoring points. Thatâ€™s a recipe for disaster.â€ť
While the offense will look to play a complete game tonight, the Hurricanesâ€™ defense, the backbone of the team through the season so far, will have its hands full against a Glastonbury offense that boasts one of the best guards in the CCC in senior Aaron Latham, who dropped 29 points in the Tomahawksâ€™ semifinals win on Friday night.
â€ś[Latham] is a really good point guard,â€ť Reis said. â€śSo it will be a battle. They also have a lot of size. I think theyâ€™re bigger [than Wilton], and probably a little better all-around.â€ť
Latham is one of nine seniors on the Tomahawksâ€™ roster, one that carries just one underclassman. Glastonburyâ€™s experience goes beyond the years listed on its roster, as the Tomahawks reached the Division II state semifinals last season as well before falling to eventual state champ Immaculate, which took down New Britain in the quarterfinals. Glastonburyâ€™s experience shined in its win against Bunnell, where the team shot 14-for-16 from the free throw line in a tight fourth quarter to seal the win. For a Hurricanes team that thrives off turnovers and forced mistakes, those may be harder than ever to come by tonight.
Still, New Britain has experience as well after reaching the quarters last year, and showed plenty of poise on Friday by erasing an eight-point deficit and overcoming a raucous crowd to clinch its biggest win of the season. The Hurricanes have had three full days to shift their focus from elation to preparation after Fridayâ€™s win, but their win in the quarterfinals was all the evidence they needed that they belong in the semifinals, but so does their counterpart.
â€śIt gives us a lot of confidence, but we have to humble ourselves,â€ť New Britainâ€™s Isaiah Jenkins said. â€śGlastonbury is a great team. They donâ€™t mistakes and they do what they have to do. But if we play the way weâ€™re capable of, I think we can win.â€ť