UNCASVILLE â€• Every team to face Bristol Central boys basketball over the past two seasons wanted to be the squad that could say it defeated the Donovan Clingan-led Rams, but 43 games later, Centralâ€™s winning streak remains intact and it finally has the state championship it has been chasing for three years.
The top-seeded Rams held second-seeded Northwest Catholic to its lowest scoring total of the season in a 56-36 win for the Division II State Championship and their second consecutive undefeated season. Centralâ€™s defense excelled in the second half, turning a two-point lead into a 20-point advantage by closing off the three-point line while also limiting the Lionsâ€™ quality chances from closer to the rim.
This was Centralâ€™s first state championship appearance and win since 1990 when it beat St. Joseph for the Class L title. The win closes an illustrious high school career for Clingan, who will now join the University of Connecticutâ€™s menâ€™s basketball team after ending his last game as a state champion and the seventh-leading scoring Connecticut boys basketball history.
â€śThis is every high school kidâ€™s dream to win a state championship,â€ť Clingan said. â€śIt feels absolutely great.â€ť
Both sides combined to make three out of 29 attempts from long range with both of Northwest's triples coming in the first half and the Ramsâ€™ lone three-pointer coming when senior guard Damian Glasper launched a 35-foot shot to beat the buzzer at the end of the third quarter.
The Lions spent most of the game using two defenders to stop Clingan from getting the ball, which forced the surrounding Central players to shoot more and become more creative with how they put the ball in the hands of their best player. Clingan still finished as the contestâ€™s top scorer after a 17-point second half gave him 25 for the game, while Glasper backed him up with 15 despite missing six threes in the first half.
Glasperâ€™s buzzer-beater was the only long distance shot he took in the second half, as he adjusted to his early struggles and supplied a series of difficult finishes at the rim.
â€śIn the beginning, my shots werenâ€™t falling so I had to find a different way to contribute to the game,â€ť Glasper said. â€śThat was getting to the line, hitting my free throws and attacking.â€ť
The Rams grabbed one more offensive rebound (30) than Northwest Catholic grabbed on both ends of the floor (29). Clingan finished with 24 boards (14 offensive, 10 defensive) while Carson Rivoira snagged 10 and Steve Alseph had nine, including five on the offensive end, and one that ended with a slick reverse layup.
Central closed the game with 25 second-chance points, which come easier when 7-foot-2-inch Clingan can clean up his own misses at the rim, but limited the Lionsâ€™ to one shot on most possessions as they scored four points on second shots.
Two points separated the teams after two quarters as Clingan and Glasper each had eight points, but Northwestâ€™s defensive setup challenged the Rams in a way that kept the score close. Centralâ€™s offensive setup allowed the Lions to cover four offensive players with three defenders while still dedicating two defenders to Clingan at all times. The Rams adjusted at halftime and implemented a formation that better spread out the defense and made it harder for three players to cover most of the court.
â€śOne of the things we wanted to do was out-tough them,â€ť Central head coach Tim Barrette said. â€śWe made the game physical, we mucked it up, and that scoreboard says enough.â€ť
After beating Northwest Catholic 63-56 in the Central Connecticut Conference Championship Game on March 3 while allowing 28 points to Lions senior guard Matt Curtis, Central senior Victor Rosa led his teamâ€™s defensive approach that held Curtis to 15 points this time. The Rams held all other Northwest players below 10 points for the second game in a row as the threes were not falling and Clinganâ€™s presence in the paint consistently challenges players at the rim in a way no other opponent can.
â€śVictor loves a challenge,â€ť Barrette said. â€śHe took one of the best players in the state of Connecticut and made him work for everything he got. [Curtis] was tired in the fourth [quarter], thatâ€™s why all those shots were short, because Victor ran him all over the floor.â€ť
The win culminated a three-year pursuit of a state championship for Central, which lost two years of championship contention because of covid. No one on the team won a state-tournament game before this year because they had not played in one since they were freshmen, but now get to graduate as state champions and two-time CCC Champions.
â€śOnly one team gets to walk away saying they didnâ€™t lose [their] last game and weâ€™ve been lucky to do that two years in a row,â€ť Barrette said. â€śI canâ€™t give these kids enough credit. 43 straight wins without getting tripped up, thatâ€™s a major accomplishment.â€ť
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
BRISTOL CENTRAL 56, NORTHWEST CATHOLIC 36
At Mohegan Sun Arena
Bristol Central 10 12 17 17 - 56
Northwest Catholic 10 10 7 9 - 36
BRISTOL CENTRAL: Donovan Clingan 8-9-25, Victor Rosa 1-0-2, Carson Rivoira 2-2-6, Damian Glasper 4-6-15, Steven Alseph 3-0-6, Aaron Brown 1-0-2. Totals 19-17-56.
NORTHWEST CATHOLIC: Badara Diakite 3-2-8, Matt Curtis 5-5-15, Jehvic Spencer 1-0-2, Gianni Mirabello 1-0-3, London Jemison 2-0-5, Hayden Abdullah 1-0-2, Cavin Pollard 0-1-1. Totals 13-8-36.
Three-point goals: Mirabello (NWC), Jemison (NWC), Glasper (BC).
Records: Bristol Central 28-0, Northwest Catholic 25-3.