Boys basketball: Lawmen upset Classical Magnet in opener

Conor Creane and Diontae Eady combined for 53 points as the 24th-seeded Jonathan Law boys basketball team won its first state tournament game in eight years, defeating ninth-seeded Classical Magnet 81-75 in Hartford Tuesday night.

The Lawmen (10-12) advance to play No. 8 seed Lewis Mills (16-5) in a CIAC Division IV second-round game in Burlington Thursday night. Classical ends its season at 14-7.

Trailing 54-53 with 2:40 left in the third quarter after a 13-6 run by the Gladiators, the Lawmen answered with a 19-5 run over the next six-plus minutes to take their largest lead of the game at 72-5, with 4:12 left.

But the Gladiators went on a 13-2 run to make it a one possession game, 74-71, with 1:39 left, capped by a pair of Tyrese Woods’ free throws. Woods led all scorers with 33 points.

Law came up with enough big plays over the final minute to hold off Classical, starting with an Eady free throw. Tyler McKenna-Hansen (3 points, 9 rebounds) grabbed the rebound on Eady’s missed second free throw, was fouled, and made one-of-two to make it 76-71.

Dean Pettway stole a loose ball on Classical’s next possession and passed to Eady who was fouled. Eady connected on one-of-two again to extend the lead to 77-71 with 42 seconds left.

Classical never got within one possession again, as Creane calmly made 4-of-4 free throws in the game’s final seconds to seal the Law victory.

“Learning to close out games has been one of our struggles,” said Law coach Jamie Anderson, in his first year at the helm of his alma mater. “We’re getting better at it, and I’m just really proud of them because our preparation brought us to that this week.”

After a week-and-a-half off following a 73-53 first-round loss to Hillhouse in the opening round of the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament, the Lawmen started Tuesday night’s game with a bang.

Creane hit four 3-pointers and a floater for 14 points in the game’s first three minutes, as Law jumped to a 17-10 lead.

“First quarter, we started off really hot, which was very helpful for us,” said Anderson. “Not just Conor, but Dean hits a three and we did a great job on the defensive end for the first couple possessions.”

Classical answered with a 14-4 run to take one of three leads on the night, never larger than three points.

Law rattled off the quarter’s last six points, including an Eady hanging jumper in the lane for a 27-24 lead after one quarter.

While the scoring slowed a little in the second quarter, Law managed to extend its halftime lead to 42-37.

Law led by as many as six points early in the third quarter on a Sam Nassar trey one minute into the second half.

After Classical fought back to take a one-point lead late in the quarter, Nasser sparked Law’s 19-5 run to take the 72-58 lead, scoring nine of his 12 points on the night. Creane added eight of his team-high 29 points.

Classical used the support of the small but vocal crowd to help push its last run at Law.

“It got loud in here. The intensity is ratcheted up a little bit,” said Anderson.

“We made some good plays and some good shots down the stretch,” he continued. “I’m proud of those guys because they finally figured out with a lead what we can do, and it was a confidence builder.”

The quartet of Creane, Eady (24), Pettway (13) and Nasser scored all but three of Law’s points.

Anderson was quick to note that several other Lawmen — including Carl Maxwell, Garrett Tutlis, Zane Birks, Jon Vitale, Will Contaxis — all played key roles.

“Even the guys who didn’t play a ton of minutes…They can get up in the morning tomorrow – after a win it’s a lot easier – but they can look in the mirror and say, ‘You know what, I played as hard as I possibly could,’” said Anderson.

“If you’re playing thirty seconds or twenty-five minutes, your job is still the same: play as hard as you possibly can and figure out a way to make the next guy successful,” continued Anderson.  “And that’s what those guys showed. So, spot minutes were great from guys on our bench.”

Anderson also noted the importance of the Law boys’ basketball staff, all of whom have played a critical role in turning around a program that went 4-56 over the last three years, and turned the team not only into a state tournament qualifier, but now a state tournament first round winner as well.

“Our staff is never, never mentioned. My staff is unbelievable,” said Anderson. “We’re all doing it together. It’s been a great change. It’s been a great culture, for us and for these kids, too.”

Summed up Anderson: “We’re still playing basketball and we’re excited.”