NEWINGTON – Wednesday night's tilt between New Britain and Newington boys basketball nearly saw a 20 point lead for the Hurricanes slip out of their hands, but fortunately for the young New Britain squad it held on for a 46-44 win.
Newington's heroic comeback effort led to them running out of time in the fourth quarter, erasing the deficit with a 17-3 frame at home. A 3-point shot was good with the buzzer sounding to cut the difference to a one-possession game.
A press defense while trailing big helped bring the score back for the Nor'easters. Once the press came, New Britain struggled. A team that dominated underneath the basket for much of the night and ran in transition well had issues bringing it past half court at times with the ball carrier getting double-teamed, leading to an errant pass for a turnover.
"We've been struggling in the first two games with turning the ball over," said New Britain head coach Kurt Reis. Leading into Wednesday the Hurricanes had a night where they committed 25 turnovers in a 57-46 loss to Enfield.
While the number certainly wasn't as high on Wednesday, it's a glaring part of New Britain's issues that have both contributed to losses and close wins.
Reis said the combination of a short bench and youth played well, but is not well versed in playing with a big lead like they did against Newington.
"The lead was 16 at the half and then 16 to start the fourth," said Reis. "A lot of these guys haven't played in a game like that, where if you're up 16, the other team's going to come get you.
"How are you going to perform under pressure?" said Reis, a rhetorical question related to his team's second-half play.
The hot start for the Hurricanes saw them successfully gain a lead early in the first quarter. A combination of under-the-basket scores from Dontay Bishop and mid and long-range scores from several players kept the offensive scheme multi-dimensional, leaving Newington defenders scrambling for where the next shot would come.
A 20-5 stretch across the second quarter built much of New Britain's lead entering halftime. Marion Figueroa helped lead the way in scoring for the night, posting a game-high 18 points for the Hurricanes.
"That's what we always want to do," said Reis about the transition scoring and different shooting looks. "But the kids have to buy in and sometimes it takes longer than you want. We've got a lot of new pieces, so it might take a little longer. We've got to make a conscious effort to continue to improve. ... It's only game three. We've got a lot of games to go."
Reis knows the Central Connecticut Conference slate and non-conference games ahead is not an easy road, and also feels a press like Wednesday night against Newington won't be the last time they're tested like that.
"The remainder of our schedule we play a lot of top-level teams. I think that pressure we're going to see [again]," said Reis. "We've just got to perform when we see it, make the correct decision and ultimately execute on the backside and get the bucket."
Looking ahead, the season's goal after three games hasn't changed, and remains to earn a state tournament bid and keep a high-level brand of basketball in New Britain.
"We always want to get into the state tournament. That's first and foremost," said Reis. "We're trying to maintain having a program at an elite level. It's hard to do with a lot of new pieces, and that's always the goal and the expectations we've set for the kids."
Next up for New Britain (1-2) following the holidays is a game following the turn of the new year, against Bulkeley on January 3. Tip comes at 6:45.
The home contest is the first of three straight home games, with the following game coming on Jan. 6 against East Catholic and Jan. 8 against Weaver.