Central knocks out St. Joseph — again

Give or take seven weeks ago I remember going back to the Post office to write up Westhill’s 59-51 win over Central thinking to myself how, what’s the right word … unremarkable the Hilltoppers looked.

Fast forward to Tuesday night and there might not be a team in Connecticut you don’t want to play right now more than Barry McLeod‘s Central.

Central won its seventh straight game Tuesday, beating St. Joseph 70-67 in the FCIAC semifinals and booking a date with Trinity Catholic Thursday night in the final. It’ll be the Hilltoppers eighth game in two weeks thanks to the snowstorm that hit Bridgeport earlier this month. Read my full game recap, here.

ShaQuan Bretoux goes up for two of his 19 vs. St. Joseph in the FCIAC semifinalsIf you’re scoring at home it’s the second straight year the Hilltoppers upset the No. 1 seeded Cadets — this time a round later in the semifinals.

This game had a lot — including 30 combined turnovers in the first half — to digest.

Let’s start with the good.

Tyler Ancrum was, well, Tyler Ancrum, running the show for the Hilltoppers on his way to 28 points.

His running-mate, ShaQuan Bretoux again piled up a quiet 19 points — almost all just when it seemed Central really needed them.

I can’t keep wondering: how has Central gone from a seemingly directionless squad in mid-January to a team nobody wants to play at the end of February? For a team without a senior, maturity is certainly a factor.

“We had a sit down, had some talks and had to understand what we needed to do,” Ancrum said.

McLeod put it a little more succienctly: “They bought into some of my bull—-, which isn’t always easy to sell, but they’ve done that.”

(He’s not going to toot his own horn, but let it be said that McLeod is an excellent coach — a big factor in why Central’s been able to come together down the stretch.)

Central was also great defensively, holding St. Joseph’s fastbreak game in check and frustrating Quincy McKnight all night, culminating with his surprising technical foul (for slapping the floor after drawing a blocking foul)  late in the fourth quarter which paved the way for the Cadets star junior to foul-out with 2:53 left on the clock.

Was it the right call in the heat of the moment?

McKnight didn’t think so.

“I’m emotional about the game,” he said. “If I don’t get a charge call and I’m not talking to the ref, I don’t see how they can call a tech for slapping the floor. …  I’m not trying to show any of the refs up and the FCIAC or anything. His explanation was I was trying to show them up.”

Overall St. Joseph never got rolling, aside from a brief spurt toward the end of the first quarter. That’s a testament to how well Central played, especially with Marcus Blackwell on the bench and held in check to just two points.

“They’re that good of a team where you can’t slack off at all,” McKnight said. “We slipped up a little bit and took the loss.”

Antoin Pettway, Dondre Daniels and Orhan Cecunjanin each made their contributions felt.

Cecunjanin even made the clinching free throws in the final seconds. After St. Joseph edged Central up in Trumbull a few weeks ago I was in the Hilltoppers’ locker room asking if anyone had anything to say. It was Cecunjanin who piped up, basically saying that his team would see the Cadets again.

His words proven to be prophetic.

St. Joseph coach Chris Watts will hope his words from the shadows of the Fairfield Warde bleachers prove to have as much foresight.

“I know for a fact this is going to motivate these guys,” he said. “I’m not saying I feel sorry for anybody we’re going to play in the near future, but we’ll really get it going.”