SOUTHINGTON — As far as milestones go, four wins doesn’t sound like much.
But for the Southington boys basketball team, beating Hall 64-54 in a CCC West contest Tuesday night was a big deal.
Behind senior Aidan Buck’s game-high 23 points and eight straight points by Carson Lentini that turned the tide in Southington’s favor midway through the third quarter, the Blue Knights matched their season win total of a year ago.
Southington improved to 4-1 on the season after enduring a 4-16 campaign last season, one that saw SHS lose its final 12 games.
By following SHS first-year head coach Ed Quick’s mantra of going “1-0 each night,” the Blue Knights improved to 3-0 in the CCC. SHS’s lone loss came last week at New Canaan in OT when the Blue Knights lost 54-51 to the Rams in their holiday tournament title game.
“We’ve got our 12 guys and obviously it’s different than last year,” said Buck, who is averaging 21.3 points over the Blue Knights’ first five games.
“Every game we want to go 1-0,” Buck added. “We are already looking forward to Friday (vs. Rocky Hill) and this win is in the rearview mirror.”
Tuesday night, Southington led at halftime, but found itself down to Hall 35-32 midway through the third quarter.
But with the Blue Knights looking for another offensive option, Lentini stepped up.
Lentini hit consecutive corner 3’s and a floater to give Southington a 40-35 lead with 1:21 left in third quarter. The junior scored all 8 of his points in just under 90 seconds of the third quarter.
Buck then banked in his third 3-pointer of the game at the third-quarter buzzer to put the Blue Knights up 44-37 heading into the fourth quarter.
The pair wasn’t done. At the start of the fourth, Lentini and Buck hooked up again, as Lentini hit a sprinting Buck with a full-court pass that led to a Buck layup and 46-37 advantage.
“Coach, since the first day of practice, has been instilling confidence in me to shoot the ball,” Lentini said. “I love (the corner 3). It’s a shot I work on every day in practice.”
“I’ve never felt better for a kid who works his butt off in practice to have a big moment in front of his home crowd,” Buck said. “I know he was feeling it. Carson is the guy who always gives 100 percent.”
Quick agreed. “I thought Carson and Ricky (O’Neill) were the players of the game,” said Quick.
While he had only 3 points, O’Neill drew a pair of offensive fouls during the Blue Knights’ rally.
“I thought they played their roles to a T and they played the most consistent for us tonight, and Carson’s offense was really important tonight.”
The Titans refused to go away in the fourth quarter.
After Buck’s layup put the Blue Knights up by nine points, Hall (3-2) got within a basket with 4:38 to play on a Harris Berson and-one. Berson’s twin brother Spencer led Hall with 15 points. Harris finished with 14.
Buck, however, hit his fourth 3-pointer after a Ryan Hammarlund follow to re-establish control and put Southington up 52-44 with 3:52 to play. Hammarlund, another junior, scored 15 points.
Two Luke Penna (12 points) inside hoops pushed the lead to 58-46 with 1:34. Buck then made all four of his free throws down the stretch as the Titans were forced to foul.
“We defended better in the second half and played with better energy; and we shared the ball,” Quick said. “The first half I thought we played scattered defense on our heels, and on offense we had some bad turnovers. Guys were looking for ‘me,’ instead of ‘we.’”
To Quick’s point, the Blue Knights shot 32 percent in the first half and made half their shots after halftime in taking control.
“Those were huge — one was lucky, but he’s a bad-shot maker,” Quick said about Buck’s timely treys at the end of the first half and third quarter. “That one (at the end of the first half) was a good shot (and) a great pass by Ryan (Hammarlund) to get him the shot.”
As for Buck’s 3 to end the third?
“It may be a bad shot, but it goes in because it’s the last option,” Quick said. “A lot of guys don’t have that knack. He does. He just knows how to make plays.”
Buck made another play in the final seconds of the second quarter. His corner trey, off a feed from Hammarlund, with 2 seconds to play in the first half sent the Blue Knights into halftime up 28-24.
“Everyone one of my 3’s came off a teammate driving,” Buck said. “If they don’t drive by their guy, I don’t get open. I just have to thank my teammates for putting me in great spots to get open shots. I have great teammates around me.”
The teams traded leads for most of the first half with the Titans taking a 16-13 lead after one quarter.
Southington came back to take a 20-18 lead with 5:10 left in the half on Buck’s first trey of second quarter.
“We talked about Hall and their only loss was a close game with Glastonbury, which is very good team,” Quick said. “They space you out and they all know their roles.”
Hammarlund scored the first five points of the second quarter to fuel the Blue Knights. The junior converted a three-point play and then hit a jumper to bring SHS to within 18-17 with 6:06 left in the quarter.
Both Buck and Hammarlund had 9 points in the first half.