Cromwell’s Victor Payne defends East Hampton’s Nathan Ireland at Jake Salafia Gymnasium inside Cromwell High School on Jan. 3. Payne scored a game high 24 points, including 22 in the first half.
Junior Victor Payne scored 22 of his game-high 24 in the first half as Cromwell boys’ basketball cruised to a 70-40 victory over Shoreline Conference (SLC) rival East Hampton on Jan. 3.
Payne, who rested the entire fourth quarter, was one of ten Panthers to score in the lopsided victory, which improved Cromwell to 5-0
With the game tied at 8-8 midway through the opening quarter, the Panthers turned on the jets by going on a 14-3 run that bled into the early stages of the second quarter.
The scoring spurt was ignited by a swarming defense that created multiple turnovers and allowed the Panthers to get easy buckets in transition.
Payne scored 10 points during the run, including a pair of buckets following offensive rebounds.
Head coach John Pinone said that Payne’s abilities give the Panthers flexibility on both ends of the court.
“He’s a tough matchup for people in our league; he’s progressively gotten better each year,” added Pinone, who has used
Payne in multiple roles this season “We’re trying to figure out different ways to get him the ball.”
Payne said that it was the “simple stuff” that allowed Cromwell to take charge in the win over the Bellringers.
“They weren’t boxing out; I was able to get some offensive boards and put them back up,” stated Payne, who is coming off an all-conference season as a sophomore. “We were moving the ball around and pushing the ball in transitions.”
During the second and third quarters, the Panthers outscored the visiting Bellringers 46-20, including an 18-2 run late in the third that was punctuated by a three-point shot from Jake Corona to put the Panthers up 62-39.
Senior Tyler Danielle scored 10 of his 12 points during the second half. Danielle also grabbed eight rebounds on the night.
Head coach John Pinone credited Danielle for his hustle and effort, adding, “Tyler played really well tonight.”
Danielle is one of three senior starters for Pinone, joining Luke Gagnon and Jake Salafia in a starting lineup that also includes Payne and junior Keanu Gomez.
Payne said the team is beginning to build a good rapport and said the key to maintaining the team’s strong start is to keep the tempo up approach.
“That is something that we are going to do all year because I think we are one of the most in-shape teams in Connecticut,” added Payne. ‘[Coach] has us running all the time in practice.”
The Bellringers attempted to play more zone defense and trap Payne in the second half, but it only led to more transition buckets as the Panthers netted 25 points in the decsive third quartyer.
“We didn’t play really well today. We came out flat,” East Hampton head coach John Antolini said. “They outrebounded us and that’s where a lot of their points came from in the first half. We tried to limit it by putting a little pressure on them but they were the better team tonight, period.”
Despite the 30-point win, Pinone believed that his Panthers left a lot of the court, particularly on the defensive end.
“I thought we were good in transition, but we are nowhere near where we need to be defensively,” stated Pinone. “We have a lot of work to do. When we get better defensively and are all in-synch we will be a much better team.”
After the 25-point third quarter that ballooned the lead to 30, Pinone was able to rest his normal rotation for the fourth quarter, allowing his young players a chance to shine.
Payne and Danielle’s double-digit scoring nights highlighted the team’s most productive scoring output of the season.
Salafia (9), Gomez (6), Gagnon (5), Logan Mure (5), Corona (3), Emeka Yearwood (2), Jay Vaughan (2), Jovan Marrero (2) also continued to the team’s season-high 70 points.
Pinone pointed to Mure, a senior who is serving as the team’s sixth man, as being one of the team’s pleasant surprises this season. Mure scored all five of his points in the third, nailing a three-pointer and making a contested layup midway through the quarter.
With 3:12 remaining in regulation, Vaughan hit a sky hook, drawing a standing ovation and the biggest cheers of the night from a Cromwell student section dressed in Hawaiian attire.
Three nights after beating East Hampton, the Panthers –– who opened the season with wins over SMSA, North Branford, Valley Regional, and Rockville –– picked up win #6 by setting a new-high in points this season in a 74-40 victory over Haddam Killingworth at CHS.
Through the first half dozen games, the Panthers have outscored their opponents by an average of nearly 24 points per game.
It’s a similar start to a season ago when the team won their first 17 games, eventually winning the SLC Championship, the program’s first since 2019.
Payne believes that defensive pressure and more consistency from beyond the arc is the key to another postseason push this winter.
After shooting only 14% from downtown in the win over East Hampton, Pinone agrees the team needs to get better from the perimeter, adding, “I think we’re going to see a lot of zone in our conference. We have to shoot better; 4-24 that is not going to cut it on a normal night.”
Cromwell returns home this Friday, Jan. 13 for another SLC contest against Old Lyme. Tip-off is 7 p.m.
Senior Jake Salafia looks to pass in the second half during Cromwell’s 70-40 victory over East Hampton. It was the Panthers fifth win in as many games this winter.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin