Central’s McLeod in search of a leader

Bridgeport Central coach Barry McLeod.

Bridgeport Central has run out to one of the best starts in the FCIAC this season, but head coach Barry McLeod will tell you, the Hilltoppers are far from complete.

On Tuesday, Central (6-2)  suffered its first loss in over a month, 73-63 against Staples at home, and McLeod left the floor in search of a leader.

“I saw this coming and tried to warn them for three or four games,” said McLeod, referring to the Hilltoppers’ inconsistency on the court. “It’s a shame. We’re not ready to play. We lack leadership. That’s the bottom line.”

The Hilltoppers — who got 15 points from guard ShaQuan Bretoux, 13 points from Tyler Ancrum and 10 from Marcus Blackwell — stumbled in the first quarter, falling behind 11-3. Winners of six straight entering the evening, the Hilltoppers answered with a 6-0 run, but never seemed to find a rhythm. They tied it 13-13 later in the quarter, before Staples pulled away for good with six straight points of its own. The Wreckers (4-5), who came in on a four-game losing skid, trailed just once (2-0).

McLeod pointed to his team’s maturity and lack of leadership as areas of concern.

“Every game’s important. You can’t pick your nights on when you’re going to play,” he said. “You can’t not want to play maybe because there’s only 150 people (watching), instead of 1,000.”

**For its first eight games, Staples leaned solely on guards James Frusciante and Peter Rankowitz for scoring. In fact, the pair averaged close to 66 percent of the team’s point production over that time. While it’s been a luxury for Staples to have two of the FCIAC’s elite guards in the same backcourt, the Wreckers have struggled to get consistent production elsewhere. That, however, changed on Tuesday. Forward Ross Whelan scored a season-high 19 points, while Darryle Wiggins chipped in with 13 points. Frusciante (21 points) and Rankowitz (13) did their own part, as usual.

“After being in a funk the last couple games, it was good to come out and get some shots up,” Whelan said. “I got here early today, and it really paid off.”

Staples head coach Colin Devine knows that if his team is to build on Tuesday’s win, it will have to follow a similar blueprint.

“We need to play the game we played tonight for us to be successful,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier or prouder of Ross Whelan and Darryle Wiggins, really stepping up tonight to take the pressure off James and Pete.

**Free throws always play a pivotal factor. Staples didn’t fare well at the line, hitting just 17 of its 27 attempts. Central also missed 10 free throws, connecting on only 11 of 21. The difference was that the Wreckers were able to string together consistent scoring with the help of their fast break.