NORTH HAVEN - Back on Friday night against Wilton, the New Britain boys basketball team watched helplessly as its season came down to a pair of technical free throws for the Warriors, who missed at the line to keep New Britain’s season alive.
On Tuesday, the Hurricanes found themselves in the opposite situation, needing to convert at the foul line themselves to seal a trip to the Division II state final.
New Britain escaped Wilton’s fate by cashing in from the charity stripe in the final minute of the fourth quarter, sealing a 56-53 win to upset No. 2 Glastonbury at North Haven High School and secure a date with top-seeded Waterford (22-1) at Mohegan Sun Arena this weekend.
“Everybody counted us out, and now we’re here,” head coach Kurt Reis said. “This is probably the biggest win for me, coming back to a new program and taking a school to the state championship.”
After Tomahawks point guard Aaron Latham buried a deep 3 to pull Glastonbury within one with 18 seconds left, Reis needed his senior-heavy group to show its poise.
The Hurricanes did just that, as Tahmeen Dupree knocked down a pair of free throws to push the lead to three, and the New Britain defense held strong on the Warriors final possession, which ended with a pair of missed 3s, neither which had much of a chance.
“It’s all the kids,” Reis said. “I can only tell them so much, but the kids have to get it done eventually.”
The Hurricanes’ poise was in question earlier in the fourth quarter, when three straight turnovers led to a quick 5-0 run for the Warriors, as New Britain (19-5) watched a seven-point lead shrivel to just two. But much like they did against Wilton four nights prior, the Hurricanes settled themselves and made four of their 18 free throws on the night down the stretch to send the program to the state tournament final for the first time since 2002.
“We were calm and confident,” Maurice Turner said after leading the Hurricanes with 14 points, with eight coming from the foul line. “We didn’t bend or fold. We kept playing strong and kept playing together until the end of the game.”
New Britain had to play strong from the opening whistle, as neither team built a lead more than seven the entire game. The Hurricanes led by as much as seven and trailed by as much as five, but its timely defense and balanced scoring, which they’ve relied on all season, prevailed on the biggest stage of the year so far, as four different Hurricanes finished the night in double figures.
After a flurry of ties and lead changes, Turner muscled in a layup to put the Hurricanes ahead by three with 4:30 left in the game, and following a Dupree steal, senior Kaiyon Gunn put home a layup of his own to put New Britain ahead by five and force a timeout from the Tomahawks.
The timeout only led to another Glastonbury turnover, which Isaiah Jenkins turned into an easy layup to give the Hurricanes their largest lead of the game with 2:45 to go.
The Tomahawks (19-3) fought back with five straight foul shots from Tom Shea to cut the lead to two, drawing one of the fouls on Shamah Charles, his fifth of the night. Meanwhile, New Britain began to crumble from the very weight it’s used to forcing on its opponents, as the Hurricanes surrendered three straight turnovers, but they would regroup and not surrender another for the rest of the night.
“Coach always teaches us to stay poised and take our time,” Charles said after contributing five points to the win. “That’s what we did. We sank our free throws and ended the game.”
After a 3 by Latham, who finished with a team-high 16 points, hit nothing but air and another try from deep ricocheted off the left side of the rim, the floor at North Haven High School quickly turned into a sea of maroon and gold, as the New Britain bench and fans in the student section rushed the court to celebrate the team’s biggest win in more than 15 years.
“This feels amazing,” Turner said, surrounded by cheering fans at midcourt. “It’s finally here. Now we have to work hard and see if we can bring a championship back home.”
NO. 6 NEW BRITAIN 56, NO. 2 GLASTONBURY 53
At North Haven High School, Division II state semifinals
New Britain 8 12 19 17 - 56
Glastonbury 11 12 16 14 - 53
New Britain: Kaiyon Gunn 5-0-12, Isaiah Jenkins 2-4-8, Maurice Turner 3-8-14, Tahmeen Dupree 4-3-13, Dashawn Clark 1-0-2, Nyzaiah Diaz 0-0-0, Luis Cartagena 1-0-2, Shamah Charles 1-3-5, Bryan Thompson 0-0-0. Totals: 17-18-56.
Glastonbury: Freddie Thomas 2-0-5, Aaron Latham 5-4-16, Tom Shea 2-5-9, Jack Shea 7-4-18, Cameron Stiepock 1-0-2, Jarese Eddie 1-0-3. Totals: 18-13-53.
Three-point goals: Kaiyon Gunn (NB) 2, Tahmeen Dupree (NB) 2, Aaron Latham (G) 2, Freddie Thomas (G), Jarese Eddie (G).
Records: New Britain 18-5, Glastonbury 19-3.