My Point

Rams Break Out Championship Mettle In Win Over Trumbull

Leo Magnus throws down a dunk for New Canaan in the fourth quarter. (Mark Conrad)

TRUMBULL — The New Canaan boys basketball team missed a number of shots close to the basket during tonight’s game at Trumbull.

That is the nature of the sport.

The Rams were hit with a technical foul because their scorebook had the wrong number for a player.

That is a correctable mistake, and since it occurred with 6.7 seconds remaining and New Canaan ahead by 21 points instead of, say, one, it became a teaching moment for the bus ride to games.

Ball movement, patience on offense, finding open players, denying opponents a path to the basket, those are more roll-up-the-sleeves and sweat-in-practice stuff that decide games and, when practiced habitually, lead to championships.

For nine quarters this season the Rams had performed very unspectacularly, as coach Danny Melzer and his players were first to admit. That they had a 2-0 mark and a 14-6 lead over Trumbull was the byproduct of superior talent.

The Rams’ Will Bozzella drives to the basket as Trumbull’s Mileeq Green defends. (Mark Conrad)

But the light went on in the second quarter tonight, and for much of the final 24 minutes of a 55-36 win. Melzer can play the tape tomorrow, the day after and the day after that as a template to attaining the goal for this shortened season.

“We’ve battled inconsistency pretty much all year,” Melzer said, though he was referring to six days and not the six weeks it sounded like. “I think we battled a little bit tonight too, but we demonstrated when we play the way we’re capable of we can be really, really good. We’ve just got to get to playing that way more consistently and we will.”

The Rams won a Division IV state title two years ago, but their only FCIAC championship took place in 1969. They last played in the final 37 years ago. They have the personnel to end both streaks next month, and tonight was a reaffirmation.

“We’re three games in, we’re 3-0, which is great, and we know we have to continue to get better,” Melzer said. “We have to keep working, and we will. This group is a bunch of hard working kids. They love each other, they love playing basketball together. We’ll keep at it and keep getting better every day.”

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Five different players scored in the second quarter tonight, but everyone played a part because the Rams moved the ball like they were playing hot potato. They drove the lane with impunity and worked the ball to isolated players on the perimeter. More often than not, the ball ended up through the net.

New Canaan’s Christian Sweeney and Trumbull’s Johnny McCain battle for a rebound. (Mark Conrad)

“We spent a lot of times the last few days working on moving the ball a little bit quicker,” Melzer said. “We had done a little too much catching and holding and we did a better job of moving the ball, having some patience and hitting the open guy. We had a couple of possessions that were beautiful; pass, pass, pass and then hit the open shot. That’s what we’ve got to be all year. Hopefully we take this, build on it and move forward.”

Christian Sweeney finished with a game-high 17 points for New Canaan. Leo Magnus added 12 and Denis Mulcahy, who offers a strong inside presence, ended up with 10.

“Obviously we struggled a little bit to get things going offensively the first two games,” Magnus said. “Tonight we thought it was really important to go out and make a statement. We can’t really control our shots falling or not but we can control how patient we are and the quality of looks we get on offense. Tonight we were able to execute and get those open looks and our shots were falling. It’s great when that happens.”

Trumbull’s Mileeq Green and New Canaan’s Will Bozzella chase after a loose ball. (Mark Conrad)

Trumbull, picked by many — my hand is raised — to finish high in the regular-season standings, is 0-3 and struggling. It relies on outside shooting but that is not a strength. Lance Walsh came off the bench and led the Eagles with 9 points.

Trumbull has athletes and it is early enough for a reboot. It could do worse than to try and follow the method the Rams used tonight for shot distribution.

“This is a great team victory,” Melzer said. “We got contributions from a lot of guys. Happy to be 3-0.”

If the Rams can manage to match their players with the correct jersey number in the scorebook the rest of the way, this could be a memorable season.