The Shelton High boys basketball team stayed with Southern Connecticut Conference rival Cheshire for 20 minutes Saturday night before running out of gas.
The Rams (4-2) closed out the game with a 29-13 run to turn what had been a close game into a 68-49 victory at Shelton’s Murray Gymnasium.
“Today we got it down to three and then it got back up to [double-digits] really quickly,” said Shelton coach Brian Gardiner, whose team had trailed most of the game but pulled within three points on a Kyle Davis trey with 4:42 left in the third quarter.
The Davis trifecta capped a 16-8 Shelton run that started with a deep Brian Berritto 3-pointer late in the second quarter. But the Rams answered back with 11 straight points en route to a 29-13 run to end the game.
Cheshire scored almost all of its final 29 points in the paint or at the foul line.
With its tank empty, undersized and outmanned Shelton was unable to keep the Rams from scoring on an array of fast break layups and drives to the basket late in the game.
“We’re outsized every single game,” said Gardiner. “It’s not an excuse. You’ve got to figure out a way to stop them. They were hurting us [in the paint]. You don’t see it as much in the beginning, but you start seeing it in the second quarter as the game goes on a little bit, you get worn down a little bit, then the size becomes a little bit of an issue.”
Offensively, Shelton went from shooting 10-of-23 overall, including 7-of-12 from beyond the arc, in the first half, to 8-of-27 overall and 3-of-16 from three-point range over the final 16 minutes.
“We settle for too many threes…because it’s easy, instead of working for a little bit better of a shot,” said Gardiner. “We don’t shoot the ball well enough from the outside to be shooting all of those threes.”
In the first half, the Gaels road the hot hand of Berritto, who made 6-of-8 shots, including four 3-pointers.
Senior Matt Hunyadi scored all six of his points in the opening half, as the Gaels trailed just 34-28 at the intermission.
Shelton outscored Cheshire 8-3 to start the second half behind a Berritto lay-up in traffic and Davis (11 points) and Will Ciccione 3-pointers, and looked poised to make a run at the Rams.
But the Shelton offense went cold the rest of the third quarter, and by the time freshman Brian Belade ended the scoreless drought with a pretty double-clutch, scoop lay-p 40 seconds into the final period, Shelton was down by double-digits again.
The Gaels cut the Cheshire lead to nine points twice in the fourth quarter, first on a Peri Basimakopoulos (7 points, 6 rebounds) three, and again on a Davis lay-up in traffic that made it 52-43 Cheshire with five minutes left.
But Shelton is struggling to put together runs when they matter most.
“We’re having a hard time, for whatever reason, after we score, getting a stop, and then getting another score,” said Gardiner. “[We] never score, stop, score. When that doesn’t happen, it’s hard to come all the way back.”
Berritto led Shelton with 20 points despite cooling off in the second half with Cheshire’s defense draped all over him.
Last night, Shelton came agonizingly close to another potential come-from-behind win over Sheehan of Wallingford. “We had three opportunities down two, wide open looks. We just missed them,” said Gardiner of his team’s 64-62 loss to the Titans.
Berritto paced Shelton with 27 points while Belade added a career-high 18 in the loss.
The schedule takes a tough turn for the Gaels next week when Shelton hosts Wilbur Cross (Monday) and travels to Notre Dame-West Haven (Wednesday). Both schools are part of the SCC’s newly formed Oronoque division, along with Shelton, Amity and East Haven.
Said Gardiner of next week’s foes: “Two of the top 15 teams in the state, so we’ve got to keep grinding.”