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Senior Garrett Johnson sank the go-ahead field goal when the Morgan boys’ basketball team earned a 40-38 victory against Old Lyme in the Shoreline Conference quarterfinals on Feb. 23. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
Senior Chris Nuzzo had 11 points with five rebounds and two assists to help the Huskies defeat Old Lyme by a 57-56 score in their regular season finale. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
Sophomore Robert Zirlis and the Morgan boys’ basketball team have an overall record of 15-6 as they dive deeper into postseason play this week. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
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The Morgan boys’ basketball team had an action-packed week that saw the Huskies split their last two games of the regular season, after which they earned a big win against Old Saybrook in the quarterfinals of the Shoreline Conference Tournament.
The Huskies took a 37-23 loss to Old Saybrook and then defeated Old Lyme by a 57-56 final to finish the regular season with a record of 14-6, marking a 10-win improvement from last year and the most victories for the team in 13 seasons. Morgan went on to notch a 40-38 victory at Old Saybrook in the Shoreline quarterfinals to improve to 15-6 overall. The Huskies are playing at top-seeded Cromwell in the semifinals of the Shoreline Conference Tournament on Tuesday, Feb. 26.
Head Coach Frank Rossi was happy to grab his first postseason win at Morgan when the Huskies edged out the Rams in Shorelines. Rossi said that Morgan kept the game within reach and then turned up the intensity in the late stages.
“The kids really stepped up when it mattered. We really didn’t play well for most of the game, but we played well enough to stay in it late,” said Rossi. “Old Saybrook did a good job taking away our transition game from the very start and controlling the tempo.”
Old Saybrook, the No. 4 seed in the tournament, held a 16-10 lead after the first quarter. The 5th-seeded Huskies won the second quarter by a 15-9 margin to knot the score at 25 at intermission. The Rams took a 33-30 lead into the fourth, but Morgan outscored them 10-5 during the final frame, ending the game on a 9-0 run to come away with the two-point victory.
Morgan created big momentum swings at the end of the second and fourth quarters. When it seemed like the game might be getting away from the Huskies late in the first half, sophomore Robbie Zirlis came up with some big baskets that gave Morgan a boost heading into halftime.
“Robbie had eight straight points to close out the first half. He scored on four straight possessions,” Coach Rossi said. “Getting back to a tie was a big momentum shift at a good time for us. Having been down most of the first two quarters, it gave us some new life.”
Still, the Huskies trailed Old Saybrook 38-31 with just three minutes left in the game. At that point, Coach Rossi wanted Morgan’s defense to jumpstart its offense.
“We talked about being more aggressive and taking more chances defensively. We wanted to spread out our defense and stop them from running the clock. We were chasing them a little bit, and it made them uncomfortable,” Rossi said. “We sped them up, and we were able to go on that run. That eventually led to a big steal from Paddy Murray that really put us in control for the last part of the game. It was a big swing.”
Morgan’s 9-0 run was spurred by seniors Chris Nuzzo and Garrett Johnson, who both sank some pivotal baskets. Murray’s play on defense also proved huge in the comeback. Coach Rossi said that Murray’s attitude is emblematic of the Huskies’ personality this year.
“Chris Nuzzo and Garrett Johnson have been really solid in these bigger games. Chris hit a big three with a little over a minute left to tie it. Garrett hit the go-ahead lay-up, and we had to make three stops in the last minute,” said Rossi. “Paddy’s a good example of why we’ve been successful. He really embraces his role, and he’s our stopper. He has a level of intensity, and it’s a prime example of why we’ve done well. This team is unselfish.”
Earlier in the week, Morgan dropped a 37-23 decision in Old Saybrook on Feb. 18. The Huskies trailed 20-5 at halftime and were unable to make up the deficit. Nuzzo scored nine points and grabbed eight rebounds, while Johnson had seven points with four boards.
Three days later, the Huskies closed out their regular season by posting a 57-56 road victory over Old Lyme. Morgan led the game from wire to wire. The Huskies brought an eight-point lead into the fourth quarter and then held off several runs by the Wildcats to emerge victorious.
Zach Johnson hit a 3-pointer to give Morgan a 57-51 lead with less than a minute to play. Old Lyme responded by nailing a three to cut the lead to 57-54. Old Lyme had one last chance with nine seconds remaining, but missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer, then hit a lay-up as time expired for the one-point margin.
Garrett Johnson scored 17 points to go with four rebounds and assists for the Huskies. Nuzzo finished the night with 11 points, five rebounds and two assists. Zach Johnson (11 points, 2 assists) and Robbie Zirlis (5 points, 6 rebounds) also contributed to the win.
Morgan is playing at No. 1 seed Cromwell in the Shoreline Conference Tournament semifinals at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 26. With a victory, the Huskies would face either No. 2 seed Old Lyme or No. 3 seed Valley Regional in the final on Friday, March 1 at Polson Middle School in Madison. Morgan will also compete in the Division V State Tournament beginning with first-round action on Tuesday, March 5.
“We have six or seven guys across the board playing unselfish basketball, and the rest of the postseason will be fun,” Coach Rossi said. “After the Shorelines, it’s the state tourney, and it’s going to be a blast.”
From the Sidelines
The Morgan boys’ basketball team’s varsity roster includes senior captains AJ Fritz, Garrett Johnson, and Chris Nuzzo; seniors Lee Broderick, John Murray, and JP Nye; juniors Nicolas Colebank and Jonathan Fiorillo; and sophomores Cameron Carlson, Jason Cohen, Zach Johnson, Gavin Krott, and Robbie Zirlis.
Frank Rossi is in his first season as head coach of the Huskies. Rossi’s coaching staff includes assistant coach Jordan Bean and JV coach Ryan Florentine
In the regular season, Morgan posted wins against Portland (64-40), East Hampton (55-43), Branford (78-60), Coginchaug (50-45 and 46-44), Hale-Ray (51-37), Amistad (50-47), Westbrook (63-35), North Branford (83-43 and 65-38), Haddam-Killingworth (54-52 and 64-45), Tourtellotte (76-41), and Old Lyme (57-56).
The Huskies also took defeats versus Valley Regional (57-51 and 43-41), Platt (57-54), Cromwell (68-44 and 80-56), and Old Saybrook (37-23).
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