There was a myriad of positive out-takes that Jonathan Law head coach Jamie Anderson and his players can acquire out of last Friday night’s 62-56 CIAC Division IV quarterfinal loss to Classical Magnet of Hartford.
Yes, a loss always equates out to a loss. And this defeat, to a team that the Lawmen had beaten, ironically close to a year ago 81-75 in the second round, brought to an emotionally crushing close the best season in the program in over a quarter of a century.
A Law boys’ team hadn’t won 18 games (the Lawmen finished 18-6) or reached this level in the post-season since Anderson and assistant coach Dan Maxwell were player at the school in the late 1980s and Charlie Phillips was the head coach.
It was a classical finish for No. 7 seed Law, which defeated Platt Tech and Abbott Tech to reach the quarters and falling to the No. 2 seed.
“At times, I thought that we got more out of them than any coach could ask for,” Anderson said, now in his second season at the helm. “You should see that locker room. There are hugs everywhere. Everybody wants to win conference titles, state titles. That’s why we coach; and why they play.
“It’s really only a part of what this is. We want these kids to take it past playing basketball…To take what they learn about brotherhood and taking care of each other. We want them to take that out into the world. Into their futures.”
In a complete turnaround, Anderson, his fellow coaches and players, have won 31 games (against 15 losses) in two seasons and have reached one conference playoff and two state tournaments.
“This program is on an upswing,” Anderson said. “We have a junior varsity and a freshman team with good numbers. The trajectory is perfect.”
The Gladiators (21-1) scored six of the game’s final eight points. They met No. 3 seed Granby Memorial (19-3) in the semifinals.
From early on, the game shaped up as a player-on-player confrontation between Law’s Diontae Eady, a junior, and Classical’s Robert Simmons, a 6-5 senior with collegiate Division 1 credentials.
Simmons threw in 17 in the first half and added 12 in the second, finishing with 29, one-point below his season’s long average of 30.
Law fought to a 13-12 first-quarter lead and led by seven, 34-27, at the halftime break.
Eady finished with 20 points along with seven rebounds and six assists. He scored eight points in the opening half and tossed in 12 in the second.
The game began to slip away from Law at the start of the second half, when Classical went on a 10-2 run off the strength of a pair of threes by Tyreese Jones. Both came from the corner off of assists from Traimell Frank.
“They (Classical) came out with lots of energy right there,” Anderson said. “I’m sure that they got a talking to. Those two quick buckets are what you call momentum changers. They got their little run and we never went back to ours.”
Classical came out on top, according to head coach Reggie Tucker, because his team was able to get the ball in the paint in the second half and that allowed them to find more open shots off the perimeter.
“We got their defense to collapse some,” Tucker said. “But, overall, they were relentless. I really don’t want to have to play them again.
“It took me from last March until the opening of practice to convince him that he needed to be a scorer first and a passer second,” Tucker said of Simmons. “He’s a pure point guard. We needed him as a point producer.”
Simmons was near impossible to stop. He hit twos, knocked down threes and went to the foul line. Simmons got scoring help from Matthew Rivera, who had 12 points.
Law fought back from a six-point deficit in the game’s first four minutes to take a lead on a put-back basket by Tyler McKenna-Hansen with a fraction of a second left.
The second quarter was highlighted by three ties, the last at 25-25, before Law’s Antonio Brown provided the spark on a 7-2 run with a three (off an assist from Eady) and two converted free throws.
“We pride ourselves in playing defense,” Tucker said. “You may not think so by the number of points we gave up, but we do. We made far too many dribbles in the first half and threw up a few too many failed home-run shots.”
Overall, Law made 21 of 55 shots from the field (38 per cent) while Classical was a solid 23-of-48 (47 per cent). Each team got to the foul line 20 times. Law was good on 12 while Classical hit on 10.
Law held a 41-36 edge in rebounds as McKenna-Hansen and Contaxis each had six, one shy of Eady’s seven.
Will Contaxis backed up Eady with nine points.
Law went into the game’s fourth quarter trailing by three, 46-43, then got it back to a one-point game, at 50-49, on a three-point play by Will Contaxis with 5:01 to play. The Lawmen would never get any closer.
They drew within three when Eady hit a two making it 56-53 with 2:43 left. Another Contaxis free throw, on the lead-end of a two-shot attempt, got the Lawmen to 56-54, at the 2:29 mark.
Key mistakes at crucial times in the game kept Law from the win column.
In the first quarter, it turned the ball over seven times (17 for the game while the Gladiators had 16 turnovers). Even though they came out of the first half with a seven-point edge, the Lawmen were only 13-of-30 from the field in the opening 16 minutes.