STRATFORD—After a 19-point loss to Barlow in the finals of its own holiday tournament, Stratford boys basketball coach Tim Swaller was looking for a bounce-back effort.
He got it, though it took his team a while to get untracked.
The Red Devils overcame 14 first-half turnovers and the absence of sophomore forward Jayquan Kirkland to defeat Bunnell, 58-50, Monday in the final regular-season meeting between the cross-town rivals at Needham Gym.
Stratford will debut a new gym next year to replace Needham, the Red Devils’ classic, old-school gym that opened in the 1950s.
The Red Devils did a much better job of protecting the ball after intermission, committing just three turnovers in the second half, and took control in the third quarter behind the outside shooting of Michael D’Aloia, who made a trio of 3-pointers in the period.
“I thought early on we tried to play a little too fast,” Swaller said. “We were a little careless with the ball. (At halftime), we said, ‘Let’s control some things, value the ball.’ I thought we did a great in the second half job taking care of the ball, getting the shots we wanted.”
The Red Devils (3-2) broke open a close game just past the midpoint mark of the third quarter as D’Aloia’s second 3-pointer of the stanza sparked a 10-0 run in the final 2:41 of the period that extended Stratford’s cushion to 45-34.
Stratford opened its biggest lead at 49-36 with 5:54 remaining and the Bulldogs (2-4) got no closer than 52-45.
With a double-figure lead, the Red Devils spread the floor in the fourth quarter looking for back-door layups and also to bleed the clock.
Six of their final six points came from the line.
D’Aloia and Joe August paced a balanced attack for Stratford with 14 points apiece while Jaden Perez added 12.
The first half, however, was an entirely different story.
Playing without Kirkland, who missed the contest after suffering a lower leg injury against Barlow, the Red Devils committed nine turnovers in the first quarter.
Swaller hopes to have Kirkland back in the lineup on Friday when Stratford visits Pomperaug.
Bunnell did not take advantage of the Red Devils’ sloppy play in the first half, going the final 6:04 of the period without a field goal.
Its only point during that span was a free throw by Derrik Gyimah with eight seconds remaining, and Stratford actually led 11-6 after the opening eight minutes.
Too often, Bunnell settled for long-range jumpers, though the Bulldogs finally got their transition going in the second quarter and converted a number of layups.
Two straight layups by Gyimah and another one by Kevin Lanham, who sparked Bunnell with nine points in the second quarter, got the Bulldogs even at 17-17 at the 2:48 mark.
Bunnell appeared to have momentum after building a 25-23 lead at the break, but struggled again in the third quarter and couldn’t recover.
“We knew they were going to go on a run,” Swaller said. “They’re very athletic, they’re a very good team. We were able to keep it close at the half which was huge.”
Still, Bunnell is struggling to find offense early in the season, being held under 55 points in five of its first six games.
Bulldogs second-year coach Dannie Powell acknowledged the Bulldogs are trying to find an identity without the school’s all-time leading scorer Maximus Edwards, who transferred to a New York City prep school after helping lead Bunnell to the South-West Conference championship last season.
“I think we are, but we’re going about it the wrong way,” Powell said. “We’re trying to do it individually instead of doing it collectively. Right now, I feel like everyone thinks they have to be that guy rather than working together to get it done.”
Three players scored in double figures for Bunnell—Lanham with 18, Tiyorne Coleman with 14 and Gyimah, who added 13.
Those three combined for all but five of the Bulldogs’ total.
August’s 3-pointer gave the Red Devils the lead good at 30-27 with 6:29 left in the third quarter.
Down 40-34, the Bulldogs were still in it, but consecutive turnovers in the final minute led to a 3-pointer by D’Aloia and a layup by Kyle Robinson that pushed Stratford’s lead into double figures for the first time.
“It’s a long season. We have 14 more games,” Powell added. “We’ll go back, watch film, get back in the gym and turn it around. Season’s not over. All of our goals are still attainable.”
On the boards, Brady Knorr—in his first game back from injury—paced Stratford with nine rebounds and Robinson pulled down five.
For Bunnell, Tyler Staggs-Burgess grabbed nine rebounds and Gyimah pulled down six.
The Bulldogs also hot themselves by shooting just 10-of-21 from the line, including 1-of-6 in the third period when the game got away from them.
Bunnell continues a four-game road trip on Saturday when it steps outside the SWC to face Fairfield Warde of the FCIAC.
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