East Catholic Stays Undefeated With Rout of Simsbury

MANCHESTER-East Catholic High School boys basketball had blown out opponents entering Friday’s game against Simsbury. The undefeated Eagles had been saving its signature win for Friday’s home fans, however. Over 32 remarkable minutes, East Catholic (12-0) dominated the Trojans in every aspect of the game, winning 88-38. The Eagles offense was highly efficient and its defense suffocating against Simsbury, which entered the contest 10-1 and ranked first in the state Division II rankings.

The Eagles, who are first in the Division 1 rankings, saw their remarkable depth on full display in the blowout, with five players scoring in double figures and multiple big men controlling the boards. Joey Reilly and Trey Hall led the team with 16 points, while Matt Knowling scored 12 and Matt Veretto 11.

“I think Trey, Will (Pineo) and Matt on the glass did an outstanding job, Jamil Hornesby did a great job setting the pace up front with his ball pressure, and then we had a bunch of guys like Joey making shots,” East Catholic head coach Luke Reilly said. “When we’re clicking and everyone is doing their job, good things happen for us.”

“Playing at a high level for 32 minutes is something we’ve really been focused on and were able to do tonight,” Veretto said. “We’re very happy to win like this, Simsbury is a great team. They’re a very fundamental team and we had to make sure to stick to the scouting report.”

Simsbury entered Friday’s matchup having won four consecutive games since its lone loss to Windsor. The Trojans were holding opponents to an average of 46 points. Reilly and his players entered the matchup prepared and with a winning strategy.

Trey Hall did a strong job of defining East Catholic’s game plan entering the contest based on team scouting reports, a plan the Eagles followed from the opening whistle to the last.

“Simsbury has a lot of great shooters and athletic players, so we just made sure to close out on shooters, box out, and get out on offense. That’s one of our big-time things, playing defense as hard as possible and using that to produce offense.”

East Catholic looked outstanding immediately, winning the first quarter 22-10. The players demonstrated their efficient team play with its first big run, scoring 13 consecutive points to take a 16-3 lead with roughly 2:30 remaining. On offense, the Falcons passed and reversed the ball well to find open shooters, eventually obtaining four three-pointers. The defense covered ball-handlers closely and was able to close out on long-range shooters and force poor attempts, including multiple air balls. East Catholic also began to establish its dominance inside in the first, with the bigs constantly limiting Simsbury to one shot while obtaining multiple offensive rebounds and baskets themselves.

East Catholic again held the Trojans to 10 points while scoring 20 in the second, taking a 42-23 halftime lead. The Eagles maintained the same excellent defensive play while continuing to create great offensive play and baskets from all areas of the court. Players took the ball inside and to the rim more for points, and guards moving the ball quickly down the floor off of rebounds or missed shots led to easy baskets. East Catholic continued to defend the perimeter well, but made it nearly impossible for Simsbury to move the ball and score inside. The strength and wingspan of the front line of Hall, Pineo and Veretto dominated the boards and interfered with the shots of smaller Trojan players, forcing multiple blocks and turnovers.

At halftime, it was clear that the Eagles looked better and stronger than Simsbury and would win, barring a monumental comeback. The question was, by how much?

Hall and Veretto discussed the offense and defense both in the first half and throughout the game.

“Defense is where everything starts, and we made sure to play as a team and stay locked in,” Hall said. “We made sure to defend the gaps and lines at all times. That’s really what wins games, playing defense and then being able to get out and run.”

“Nobody is selfish on our team,” Hall said when talking about the offense. “Matt is our big-time leader, Joey is a great shooter, Jamil is a great point guard and Will is crazy on the boards. We always just move the ball and don’t rush into our offense, and will do whatever we need to get the right bucket.”

“Communication was most important for us on defense tonight,” Veretto said. “We were always talking on screens and made sure we executed that way (and defenders were there). In the first half we had to make some adjustments after they hit a few shots off screens, but we made sure to get it done.”

After a cold start by East Catholic on offense in the third, the Eagles got back into rhythm, again led by its ability to run the fast break off misses and take the ball to the rim, as well as reach the free throw line. The players had a handful of athletic baskets in the quarter, led by Hall’s slam off a pass from Hornesby. East Catholic went 7-7 at the line. The third ended with the Eagles leading 62-37.

As in the first half, East Catholic players did an excellent job of communicating with one another while executing plays on both sides of the ball in the third. Veretto went into detail about his team’s ability to communicate and its importance.

“It’s about a brotherhood. We love talking to each other, we talk everything out. In practice we get reps with that every day so we’re ready in games. When we talk in practice, we don’t forget to do so in games. That’s the only way to play defense. If you’re silent, you won’t stop teams.”

East Catholic’s defense continued to be airtight in the fourth as Simsbury went ice-cold. The Trojans could not hit anything from the perimeter even when open, allowing the Eagles bigs to clog the paint and repeatedly stop Simsbury shot attempts. Ultimately, it scored no field goals. As Reilly began to empty the bench, his reserves maintained their excellent play. Led by Evgeny Medvedev, the group was particularly efficient on offense. Medvedev drained four threes over defenders.

Simsbury was lead in points by Jalen Williams with 11. The Trojans made more three-pointers than two-pointers (8 to 6), and ultimately hit just two free throws.

“It’s a challenge to play well for an entire 32-minute game, and we talked a lot about staying focused the entire game,” Reilly said. “Every guy who got in tonight knew this was a very meaningful game for us, and it’s great they put forth their best effort. They showed a business-type approach, and that’s great to see as a coach.”

East Catholic’s challenge in the coming weeks is to see if it can stay undefeated and at the top of the state division standings. It has tough games in the coming weeks against Manchester and East Hartford.

“Our mentality is, you’re only as good as your next game,” Veretto said. “In the coming weeks, we need to communicate and keep our level of intensity up on defense, and if we crash the glass and share the ball we’ll be good.”

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