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Senior Garrett Johnson and the Morgan boys’ basketball team advanced to the quarterfinals of the Division V State Tournament by earning a two-point win versus Haddam-Killingworth and three-point victory over Terryville in the first two rounds of the draw. (Photo by Catherine Avalone/The Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
Freshman center Connor Duffy played a big role in the Huskies’ 45-42 win against Terryville in the second round of the states on March 7. Duffy made his presence felt in the post to help create open shots for his teammates. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
Senior JP Nye and the Morgan boys’ basketball squad improved to 17-7 overall after winning their first two games in the Division V State Tournament last week. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
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The Morgan boys’ basketball team began its run in the Division V State Tournament by earning a pair of narrow wins to advance to the quarterfinals. In the first round, the 6th-seeded Huskies hosted a familiar foe in No. 27 seed Haddam-Killingworth and secured a 56-54 victory. After that, Morgan earned a 45-42 home win against No. 22 seed Terryville in the second round. The Huskies, who improved to 17-7 overall, are playing Old Lyme in the Division V quarterfinals on Monday, March 11.
On March 5, the Huskies squared off with Haddam-Killingworth for the third time this season after having defeated the Cougars in both regular season matchups. Morgan received an outstanding effort from senior captain forward Chris Nuzzo, who recorded 18 points and six rebounds to help the Huskies squeak out a two-point victory. Sophomore guard Zach Johnson had 12 points with five assists and three steals, while senior forward JP Nye added 10 points, seven rebounds, and three blocks in the win.
Head Coach Frank Rossi knew that Morgan was ready for another battle against the Cougars, but he was also aware that H-K’s familiarity with the Huskies could make for a difficult opponent.
“It’s rough drawing a Shoreline team and then have to play a tough rival, too. We beat them twice, and I knew that H-K would be up for this game,” said Rossi. “It was one of those games where they just bothered us. They did a good job of disrupting us.”
The Huskies got out to a 15-9 lead in the first quarter and brought a 28-22 advantage to halftime. Haddam-Killingworth started to heat up and closed the Huskies’ lead to 41-40 after three. Then in the fourth quarter, Morgan focused on getting stops and managed to smother the Cougars when they had a chance to either tie or go ahead on the last possession of the game.
Coach Rossi felt that his squad did a nice job of responding to the challenge that H-K presented. The Huskies’ defense played a huge role in the win, just as it has all season.
“We were up six at the end of the first half, and I thought we were in a good place, but H-K had a ton of energy. The third quarter was all H-K, and then we were hanging onto a one-point lead,” Rossi said. “Going into the fourth, we just kept preaching defense. We created offense out of our defense. Ultimately, it came down to making a stop to win the game. It’s typical of what we’ve done this season.”
Two days later, Morgan played another nail-biter when it hosted Terryville for a second-round game. The Huskies came away with a 45-42 victory versus the Kangaroos to advance to the state quarterfinals. Senior guard Garrett Johnson led the way with 30 points, seven rebounds, and two steals for Morgan.
Coach Rossi had the Huskies prepared for the game, knowing that Terryville’s strength was its 3-point shooting. Morgan tried to run the Kangaroos’ shooters off the line and, although the Huskies had trouble doing that in the first half, they eventually settled in to get the win.
“We knew a little about Terryville and what they did as Berkshire Conference team. They won their first-round game, which we expected. We knew that they would be riding their momentum,” said Rossi. “We had a good game-plan. They are smaller than us, and they are an excellent shooting team. My biggest focus though is making sure that we keep our emotions in check since a lot of our guys haven’t been in this position before.”
After a 7-7 first quarter, Terryville took a seven-point lead by outscoring the Huskies 18-11 during the second quarter. Morgan refocused on its game-plan and buckled down defensively in the second half to cut into the deficit. The Huskies won the third quarter 11-8 to make it 36-29 entering the fourth. In the final frame, Morgan outscored the Kangaroos 16-9 to walk off the floor with the three-point win. The Huskies solidified the victory by making another big defensive stop on the final possession of the night.
Garrett Johnson had a big impact on both sides of the ball, sinking the go-ahead basket and then making a key steal at half-court that led to a foul on which he sank both free throws. Coach Rossi said that Morgan also received important contributions from Nuzzo and post players like Nye, Robbie Zirlis, Alex Fratamico, and Conor Duffy.
“At the end of the game, we had to stop them. On their out-of-bounds play, we forced a contested 28-footer. Chris Nuzzo played an amazing defensive game. He did an amazing job defensively, and his man was never able to get comfortable at all,” said Rossi. “We also focused on establishing a low post presence. The stats may not be there, but they drew the attention that allowed guys like Garrett to get open looks.”
Morgan will travel to No. 3 seed Old Lyme for a Division V State Tournament quarterfinal game on Monday, March 11 at 7 p.m. With a win, the Huskies would face the winner of No. 2 seed Somers and No. 10 Shepaug Valley in the semis on Wednesday, March 13. The Division V state final will be held at Mohegan Sun Arena on either Saturday, March 16 or Sunday, March 17.
Whatever happens the rest of the way, Coach Rossi believes that this year has been a resounding success. Rossi had high expectations for the Huskies, and they’ve already exceeded them. That fact, coupled with a great wave of support from the community, is proving a huge source of joy for Rossi and his players.
“This year has been amazing as the season has gone on. It helps that we’re winning. These last two home games have been truly amazing. The community support has been great, and it’s fun to be a part of,” Rossi said. “To have 17 wins now, that’s great. Now you get greedy, and you don’t want it to end. There’s only 40 teams left out of 180, and we’re proud to be a part of that.”
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