MANCHESTER — The Manchester Central and Manchester Memorial boys’ basketball teams are on two different paths as the Division I regular season enters its final month. The two paths crossed on Friday to the pleasure of the Little Green and dismay of the Crusaders.
Central used a scorching start to the second half to take its third consecutive win in a 68-55 triumph over the winless Crusaders at Bronstein Gymnasium. The Little Green (6-5) held a 12-point lead at halftime before stretching the lead over 20 points with an 18-4 run during the first four minutes of the third quarter. The Crusaders (0-10) drew as close as 11 points midway through the fourth quarter, but Central’s work in the third proved to be more than enough to hold on.
“I feel a lot better about it all,” Central coach Sudi Lett said. The Little Green had lost five straight before this recent winning streak. “This team has a lot of potential. Most of the kids you saw out there today were freshmen and sophomores, which means this program has a bright future.”
While the youth stepped up for the Little Green, it was their veterans that made the difference. Senior Jesus Milan poured in 13 of his game-high 17 points during Central’s outburst in the third quarter. Milan and fellow senior Dede Niyang spearheaded a chaotic defensive effort in that third quarter that forced Memorial into a handful of turnovers and unforced errors as the Crusaders panicked against the pressure.
“Once they start getting active on defense like that, I feel like we can beat anybody,” Lett said. “We’re still learning to play without fouling and showing our hands, but for the most part I’m happy with where we are going with things.”
Also working to Central’s advantage was its spread scoring as 10 players scored and five posted points during the big third quarter. Sam Kodi and Royce Williams followed Milan with seven points apiece while Niyang added six.
“My idea at this level is that anybody can make a contribution,” Lett said. “The more contributions you get here the better. When the playoffs come and things start to ratchet up, you want to have as many players feeling comfortable on the court as possible.”
Memorial, which got 14 points from Deng Akok and 12 from Jack Fitzgerald, is taking solace in what it gained from another loss. Crusaders coach Danny Bryson admitted Friday might’ve been his team’s most complete effort of the season, noting how his team battled back from a 10-2 opening deficit and then came two free throws short of cutting Central’s lead to single digits in the fourth.
“We had a real good week of practice, which came with a real good talk where we challenged the guys more,” said Bryson, who came into the season without a returning varsity player. “They responded for us tonight. I always preach that 5 percent of this game is the ball going in the hoop and that stuff while the other 95 percent is energy and effort. That 95 percent was all there today with the energy, which left a lot more positives than negatives for us to take away.”