Starting the season 2-0 does not a season make, but it sure doesn’t hurt.
That’s the way the Shelton High boys basketball team has opened its 2012-13 campaign, upending North Haven 61-47 at home on Wednesday before finishing the week with a 66-57 victory at Hamden on Saturday evening.
Beating Hamden on its own floor qualifies as a statement win for the Gaels, who have recorded few such victories since their last winning season in 2005-06.
Hamden went 13-10 last season and is perennially one of the better teams in the Southern Connecticut Conference.
“To come on the road and get a win like this means something,” said fifth-year Shelton coach Brian Gardiner of his team’s win over Hamden. “They’re a very good team, a top-tier team in the SCC.”
At times on Saturday, the Gaels looked very good, including their long-range shooting where Shelton made 9-of-16 three-pointers.
At other times, Shelton struggled against Hamden’s pressure and a more powerful frontcourt that took 21 more field goal attempts than the Gaels, largely due to second- and third-chance opportunities.
Through it all, the Gaels never trailed after the 5:30 mark of the first quarter. Every time the Green Dragons got close, Shelton found away to gain back the momentum.
The last key stretch took place midway through the fourth quarter.
Hamden pulled to within a point, 49-48, with 4:50 left. Shelton missed a fast break lay-up, but 10 seconds later Ben Malay was there to put back another miss.
On Shelton’s next possession, Pat Murphy drained a 3-pointer to extend the Gael lead to six, 54-48.
Craig Packnick tipped a missed free throw back to Christian Federici and the Gaels burned another 50-plus seconds off the clock before Mike Davis made one-of-two-free throws to extend the Shelton lead to seven, 55-48. Malay added a pair of free throws at the two-minute mark to cap an 8-0 Shelton run, and Hamden never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.
“Hustle plays, they win games,” said Gardiner of how his team responded with the game on the line. “You don’t see them in the box score.”
Malay was the offensive star for Shelton, scoring a game-high 28 points on an efficient 8-of-12 shooting night, including 6-of-9 from beyond the three-point arc. He was a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line over the game’s final two minutes.
“He’s our senior captain, and he’s playing that way,” said Gardiner, noting the work Malay did in the off-season to get ready for his senior year.
Malay was on fire early in the game, scoring 17 points in the first 12 minutes in leading Shelton to a 25-10 lead.
The advantage all but disappeared over the last four minutes of the half, as Hamden went on a 15-2 run to pull within 27-25 at the intermission. The Gaels extended their lead back up to 10 points, 41-31, midway through the third quarter, thanks in large part to six points from Davis to go with treys from Murphy and Malay.
But once again, Hamden had an answer, outscoring Shelton 17-8 over the next eight minutes before Shelton’s decisive fourth quarter run.
“Against them, if you let up for one possession, it can be tough,” said Gardiner of Hamden’s aggressive defense.
Davis added 12 points, Murphy nine, Federici eight, Packnick five and Mike Torres and Chris Pawlowski two each off the bench.
Packnick led Shelton with nine rebounds, while Federici added seven, Malay four and Torres three.
Casey Belade, Chris Berritto, Matt Brouilette, Justin Lynch and Jake Camp all got into the game for Shelton.
On Wednesday night, Shelton got 17 points from Murphy to lead a balanced offensive attacked in handing North Haven a 61-47 setback in the season-opener for both teams.
Malay added 12 points, Palwowski nine, and Federici and Packnick six apiece.