UNCASVILLE -- Central entered Saturday's Class LL final as perhaps the state's most dominant team outside of unbeaten Fairfield Prep. That's one reason why longtime Hilltoppers coach Barry McLeod was perplexed by his team's 18-point deficit at halftime against the Jesuits.
"I just told them that `I'm embarrassed for you. This isn't the team I've coached for two years,'" McLeod said. "`You're putting on a poor exhibition. There's no fight, there's no determination. I don't know what it is.'"
The last 16 minutes were more to the coach's liking.
The second-seeded Hilltoppers rallied to stun No. 1 Prep 76-73 at Mohegan Sun Arena for their first state title since 2010 and fifth all-time. It's the Hilltoppers' third championship under McLeod.
"This has got to be at the top," he said. "The magnitude of the game, the fact that it's the No. 1 team that hasn't lost all year, the way they've had their way and manhandled everybody, it's got to be the best."
Orhan Cecunjamin drove around Prep 7-foot-2 center Paschal Chukwu for a go-ahead layup with 21 seconds left. After Tyler Ancrum gave Central a three-point lead with two foul shots with 10 seconds remaining, Keith Pettway's 3-pointer bounced off the rim as time expired.
Both teams finished the year 27-1.
"We never quit," said forward Sha'Quan Bretoux, who scored 12 points.
Marcus Blackwell scored 17, Cecunjamin had 16 and Ancrum added 15 as the Hilltoppers capitalized off 21 turnovers. Eleven of those turnovers were forced in the third off a 2-2-1 press.
Prep shot 61 percent in the first half -- compared to only 34 percent by the Hilltoppers -- and led by as many as 19.
Chukwu posted his second triple-double of the state tournament, scoring 21 points on top of 17 rebounds and 12 blocks. Pettway and Ryan Foley each scored 17 points.
"Their pressure is a lot different from what we've been seeing," Chukwu said. "They have four guys coming up trying to stop you from dribbling."
Central led 57-56 after three quarters, but Prep regained a 66-63 lead with 4:39 left. The lead changed hands 13 times on the night.
Ultimately, the Jesuits couldn't solve Central's pressure and a hot-shooting Ancrum, who had 12 points after halftime. It was Prep's third loss in the LL final in the last four years. Read Full Article
"They had no choice but to come out with a reckless abandon," Prep coach Leo Redgate said. "We know how to break the pressure; it's not that. We just had too many turnovers and didn't attack the basket."
The Hilltoppers did attack the basket, and they were successful in doing so. They shot 54 percent in the second half.
"Everybody kept saying, `Why did you keep going against him?'" Ancrum said. "... I've got more power and I've got more skills than him. That's what I came out here to do tonight."
Class LL state championship
Dondre Daniels 2 0-0 5 Sha'Quan Bretoux 4 4-5 12 Tyler Ancrum 6 2-4 15 Orhan Cecunjamin 8 0-0 16 Marcus Blackwell 6 3-3 17 Jahdeh Somerville 1 1-2 3 Rickardo Grant 1 0-0 2 Antoin Pettway 2 0-0 4 Ikpeba Brown 1 0-0 2. Totals 31 10-14 76.
FAIRFIELD PREP (27-1)
Keith Pettway 7 3-6 17 Thomas Nolan 5 0-0 13 Dave Zielinski 0 0-0 0 Ryan Foley 7 0-0 17 Paschal Chukwu 10 1-1 21 Ray Featherston 2 0-0 5 Pat Harding 0 0-0 0. Totals 31 4-7 73.
CENTRAL 14 15 28 19 -- 76
FAIRFIELD PREP 23 24 9 17 -- 73
3-pointers: C -- Blackwell 2, Daniels, Ancrum. FP -- Nolan 3, Foley 3, Featherston.