Cromwell senior Ginaluca Albert, pictured against Granby in the state semifinals, led the Panthers in scoring this season
A two-point quarter is hard to overcome.
Leading 31-25 at the half, Cromwell boys’ basketball scored only one bucket in the third quarter as Granby Memorial erased the six-point halftime deficit before winning 59-48 at New Britain High School in the Division IV semifinals.
The victory advanced the No. 4-seed Bears to the state championship game and eliminated the top-seeded Panthers.
“I think we made some mental mistakes and we had some bad turnovers. We missed some shots that we normally make, but that’s part of the game,” Cromwell head coach John Pinone said. “Got to give [Granby] credit, they made some plays and made some tough shots and beat us today.”
The second-half struggles were not indicative of the season as a whole for the Panthers. It was also far different from how the game started.
Cromwell made their first four shots and jumped out to a 9-2 lead within the first few minutes of the contest.
Gianluca Albert hit a baseline pull-up and also set up Sam Stergos for a layup. JJ Feehan canned a mid-range jumper and a three pointer during the Panthers hot start, sending Cromwell’s packed student section into an early frenzy.
Albert scored 10 of his team-high 13 points in the first half as the Panthers maintained the lead for the entire first half.
Things turned coming out of the locker room as the Bears scored the first 11 points of the third quarter.
A layup from Victor Payne temporarily stopped the bleeding, before Granby netted the last six points of the quarter, outscoring Cromwell 16-2 in the quarter and taking a 42-33 lead into the final frame.
Granby’s Josh Brown scored 11 of his game-high 26 points in the pivotal quarter.
“We were only down by a little bit [at half] and we kept fighting the whole way,” said Brown. “We knew it was going to be a tough game but honestly I thought we were the better team and we showed it today.”
Brown and backcourt mate Justin Phillips (17 points) were spectacular in the win. The senior duo scored or set-up a majority of Granby’s points.
“We had some tough matchups out there with their guards,” said Pinone, who added the team allowed the aggressive Bears some easy looks in the second half. “They are quick. We had length and we tried to keep them in front of us, but that’s a lot easier said than done.”
Pinone added that the Panthers had some scoring opportunities in the third quarter but the shots just didn’t fall, which he referred to as “demoralizing.”
“Not making any excuses. [Granby] played much better than us in the second half.” he added.
The loss ended the season for Cromwell, who won 19 of 20 regular season games and captured the Shoreline Conference (SLC) for the first time since 2019.
It was the final game for five seniors; Albert, Feehan, Stergos, Louis Friend, and Connor McMillan. Albert led the team in scorer and was honored as the SLC Player of the Year in early March. Feehan made the SLC Honorable Mention team and Payne, a sophomore, made the SLC 2nd Team.
After graduating all five starters and the first two players off the bench a season ago, Pinone and his staff didn’t know what to expect out of the team this winter.
Pinone’s message to his team following the defeat was encouraging.
“I told them they have a lot to be proud of. No one starting with their coach thought they’d be 24-2 and win the tourney title,” the longtime coach said. “I don’t think anyone saw this coming. They are still disappointed obviously that we couldn't get one more to get to Mohegan, but sometimes life is tough.”
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin