Danbury, Bethel advance to Tip-Off Classic championship
DANBURY — The Danbury High boys basketball team was backed into a corner midway through the third quarter in its showdown with crosstown rival Immaculate in the first round of the 17th-annual News-Times Tip-Off Classic Monday night.
The last of the Hatters’ nine-point second-quarter lead had been erased by a 3-pointer from the top of the key by Mustangs junior sharpshooter Ronan Doherty. With the score tied and the roof about to blow off the newly named Bob Plumb Gymnasium, Danbury sophomore guard Javon Hernandez rose and delivered.
Hernandez sank a jump shot to break the tie score, then later hit a pair of 3-pointers and drew a charging call on the defensive end to spark the Hatters in a 55-44 victory. Hernandez finished with 16 points, including 13 in the second half. His jumper with 5:30 remaining in the third quarter broke a 26-all tie and put the Hatters ahead to stay. Denali Burton added 10 points.
“We had to stay calm and not panic,” Hernandez said. “Just stay within yourself and play your game.”
Danbury will face Bethel, a 58-36 winner over Abbott Tech in Monday’s other first-round game, in the tournament championship Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Immaculate. Abbott Tech and Immaculate will square off in the consolation game at 6.
The hard-fought win in the season opener certainly gave the Hatters a boost of confidence going forward, with a few new faces in new places — Hernandez being one of them.
“We just want to go hard every day, work hard in practice and come out here and play like we did today,” Hernandez said.
Even after they regained the lead, however, the Hatters never opened much breathing room, as Immaculate, led by 6-foot-5 senior center Will Hatcher, refused to go quietly. Hatcher scored a game-high 23 points, including eight in the fourth quarter.
“He is an absolute beast,” Immaculate coach Nelson Mingachos said of Hatcher. “He’s just a specimen. His body, his physique, the things he can do. He’s got to be one of the best big men in our league, if not the state.”
A Hatcher dunk off an assist by sophomore Mike Basile, followed by another Hatcher basket, cut Danbury’s deficit to five with 3:40 to go. A conventional three-point play by Danbury senior forward Marcus Fox stretched the Hatter lead to eight with 3:01 remaining. In the same sequence, Doherty fouled out for Immaculate, leaving the Mustangs without one of their most dangerous shooters for the stretch run. Doherty finished with 10 points. The Hatters sank nine of 10 foul shots in the closing minutes to seal the win.
It was a battle reminiscent of last year’s tournament championship game between the two teams. Danbury won that one in its home gym, but not without a heck of a fight from Immaculate.
“This feels like last year. We walked out of the Danbury High gymnasium with a loss, but we knew we played decent enough where we could have beaten them,” Mingachos said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t, but it’s something we definitely can build on.
“The heart and determination by my boys — we have a lot of young kids out there — I’ll take it,” Mingachos said. “It’s definitely something we can build on. I’m excited.”
In the first game, Bethel’s 6-foot-7 senior center Dakota Nyborg scored a game-high 22 points and senior guard Matt Marx scored 14 as the Wildcats opened a 27-12 halftime lead and cruised from there.
“Dakota Nyborg, the big guy in the paint, we really wanted to pound the ball to him to get him going. He’s going to be a tough match-up,” Bethel coach Dennis Morsey said. “And Matt Marx, a senior captain, passed when he needed to pass and scored when he needed to score. Across the board, I was very pleased with how they played.”
It was a scary moment for Bethel in the first half when sophomore guard Chris Towey went down with what appeared to be a kneee injury. Towey was a member of the All-Tournament team as a freshman last year and was an All-Patriot Division selection.
“We think he hyper-extended his knee, but we won’t know until he goes to the doctor,” Morsey said. “We’re hoping that it’s the best-case scenario. He’s a big part of what we do. He’s a sophomore, and a really talented kid. So, fingers crossed.”
Abbott Tech, meanwhile, has a lot of fresh faces in the lineup after graduating a standout senior class last year. Senior Freddy Espino led the way with 18 points, including three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter as the Wolverines went down fighting.
“We know it’s going to be a big learning experience, and a quick one early on, as they’re going to have to realize what varsity basketball is all about,” said Abbott Tech coach Anthony Simone. “They fought hard. I couldn’t be more proud of how much they gave out there effort-wise today.”
BETHEL 58, ABBOTT TECH 36
News-Times Tip-Off Classic
ABBOTT TECH (0-1)
Evan Marques 2 1-4 7; Brian Ngov 1 0-0 2; Freddy Espino 6 3-4 18; Dane Green 0 0-0 0; Nazeer Prior 3 0-2 8; Marcos Gonzalez 0 0-0 0; Stanley Roman 0 1-2 1; Derek Taveras 0 0-0 0. Totals: 12 5-12 36.
Matthew Marx 5 3-4 14; Tyler Zegray 2 0-1 6; Daniel Islam 2 0-0 4; Nevin Gagnon 1 0-0 3; Chris Towey 2 0-0 5; Dillon Bell 0 0-3 0; Dante Van Houten 1 2-2 4; Jarni LaGrenade 0 0-1 0; Dakota Nyborg 8 6-11 22; Matthew Vitarelli 0 0-0 0; Jason Henry 0 0-0 0. Totals: 21 11-22 58.
ABBOTT TECH5 7 6 18 —58
BETHEL11 16 15 16 — 36
3-pointers: AT—Espino 3, Marques 2, Prior 2; Be—Zegray 2, Marx, Gagnon, Towey.
DANBURY 55, IMMACULATE 44
News-Times Tip-Off Classic
Jordan Alleyne 1 1-2 3; Denali Burton 3 4-5 10; Marcus Fox 2 3-5 7; Javon Hernandez 5 2-2 16; Andrew Mollenthiel 1 0-2 3; Keyon Moore 0 0-0 0; Cameron Snow 3 0-0 9; Chris Torres 1 5-6 7; Diante Vines 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 15-22 55.
Ronan Doherty 2 5-7 10; Will Hatcher 10 3-4 23; Isaiah Payton 0 0-0 0; Colm Doherty 1 3-4 5; Mike Basile 2 0-2 4; Quinn Guth 1 0-2 2; Jack Woods 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 11-19 44.
DANBURY15 8 14 18 — 55
IMMACULATE12 7 13 12 — 44
3-pointers: D—Hernandez 4, Snow 3, Mollenthiel; I—Doherty.