15 Mar

Panthers Collect CCC Tournament Crown

GLASTONBURY — When the shot left her hand from behind the 3-point line, E.O. Smith freshman Claire Greene had a good feeling.

Senior Taylor Verboven had those same thoughts.

“She has the best 3-point shooting percentage on the team,” Verboven said of her teammate. “I was confident it was going in.”

Greene scored all five of her points in the fourth quarter, the biggest on that 3-ball with 1:47 remaining, then added a key offensive rebound and a blocked shot down the stretch as fifth-seeded E.O. Smith (21-3) sealed it at the foul line for its first Central Connecticut Conference tournament title since 2016 with a 53-45 victory on Thursday night over No. 3 Newington (20-4).

“Game in and game out, Claire has always come up big for us … a rebound, a shot,” E.O. Smith coach Mary Roickle said. 

“She doesn’t have any sense of fear. She was just going in, doing her thing, ‘What do you want me to do, Coach?’”

E.O. Smith, which led by 14 points, 34-20, at halftime, saw that lead cut down to two, 44-42, following a 3-pointer from Ashanti Frazer (20 points). And Newington missed a pair of layups that could have tied up the game.

On the ensuing E.O. Smith possession, Courtney Doherty (11 points) drove to the basket before kicking it out to Greene behind the arc.

“Just the mentality, when your team is down and you’re open, any one of us, you just have to take the shot at the end,” Greene said. 

“I was just in the moment.”

Two free throws from Allie Raynor after Greene had grabbed a key offensive rebound following two misses from the line by E.O. Smith increased the lead out to seven before Frazier hit another three as the Indians crept within four, 49-45.

Doherty and Verboven (21 points) each made two foul shots in the final 25.7 seconds to seal the win and Greene provided the punctuation in-between the foul shots with a blocked shot.

E.O. Smith shot 12-of-23 (52.2 percent) in the first half and made seven 3-point field goals to build its double-digit halftime advantage with solid execution in its half-court offense.

When Newington switched to man-to-man in the third quarter, that free-flowing movement disappeared.

“We just kind of stopped moving without the ball,” Roickle said. 

“We had one or two movements and then we’d dribble into three people.”

Taylor Golembiewski added 10 points for E.O. Smith, which won its ninth straight game dating back to a 57-41 loss at South Windsor on Jan. 28.

That game saw the Panthers trail by a 30-10 margin at halftime after shooting 3-of-30 (10 percent) from the floor.

The next day, E.O. Smith held a captains’ meeting to clear the air.

“We changed our warm-up to come out with more energy,” Verboven said. 

“We talked about things that we needed to work on in practice and in games.”

Said Roickle: “The kids started to put together offensively that if we do certain things … one more pass, play as a team and not rely on individuals taking one pass and a shot that we were going to be more successful. 

“The next game [Conard] was the best offense I’ve ever seen [in a 67-41 win]. They just blew it apart.

“When I saw that it was like, ‘Wow, this team has potential’.”

E.O. Smith is the No. 6 seed in the upcoming CIAC Class LL state tournament and opens play on Tuesday night with a first-round game at home against No. 27 South Windsor (9-11).