Clingan, Bristol Central boys win second straight CCC tournament title

The Bristol Central boys basketball team has had a huge target on its back all season and during the CCC tournament.

That’s what happens when you’re the top-ranked team in the state and the top-seeded team in your league tournament. The Rams had answered the bell 23 straight times this season, and 38 overall, entering Thursday night’s highly-anticipated tournament final against second-ranked and second-seeded Northwest Catholic at Enfield High School.

Central responded to yet another challenge, behind another monster night from senior 7-foot-2 star Donovan Clingan, and beat Northwestern, 63-56. The Rams are 24-0 on the season and have won 39 straight games overall. Oh yeah, and they’ve won two straight CCC tournament titles.

“What an unbelievable run. It’s 39 in a row,” Central coach Tim Barrette said afterward in an interview with West Hartford Community Interactive, which broadcasted the game. “One of my coaches said it’s hard to have that target on your back, but my guys have risen to the occasion every game, every opportunity.”

Clingan posted 45 points, 28 rebounds and six blocked shots in another terrific performance, and he did it against by far the biggest front line he’s seen all season. Clingan rounded out the scoring for himself and the Rams in fitting fashion with a powerful two-handed slam and three-point play with 49.6 seconds left in the game.

“I knew they were going to double and triple-team me, and my mentality coming into this game was to be as strong as I could, keep the ball high, finish through contact, and play like a beast,” Clingan said.

Check, check, check, check and checkmate.

Senior teammates Carson Rivoira and Damion Glasper checked in with seven points apiece. Steve Alseph (3) and Victor Rosa (1) combined for four points, but it was their passing and handling of the ball that was more important. On the final play of the second quarter, Rivoira set a screen for Clingan, who got free and slammed home an alley oop from Rosa to send the Rams to a 30-26 halftime lead.

There were some big shots from Rams other than Clingan that helped keep the Lions at bay. When Northwest got to within 36-33 in the third quarter, Glasper buried a 3-pointer from the corner off an Alseph assist. The Lions trimmed that deficit to four points, but Alseph answered with another 3-pointer off a Glasper assist for a 42-35 advantage. Glasper’s shot in the lane off a Rosa assist in the fourth quarter put Central ahead, 52-45, with under five minutes to play.

Northwest’s Gianni Mirabello canned a 3-pointer with under four minutes to go to cut his team’s deficit to 52-48. Clingan responded with a hook shot that got the roll, then scored the last nine points after that for the Rams. Eight of those nine points came on thunderous dunks, the other point on a foul shot.

At halftime, Barrette implored his team to stop firing up so many 3-pointers (1 for 13) and pound the ball inside.

“We didn’t care how slow the game got because we’ve got the X-factor in the paint,” Barrette said, adding: “He’s the best player in the state of Connecticut, hands down.”

All five Central starters played all 32 minutes, and they played great defense for the second game in a row.

“Our defense really stepped up the last two games,” Barrette said.

Matt Curtis, a terrific player in his own right, led Northwest (22-2) with 28 points from all different spots on the floor. No other Lion reached double figures.

“I love my coach, I love the school, I love my town, and I just couldn’t be happier,” Clingan said. “Now we just need to take it to the state tourney and bring home a ring.”

Barrette said the game between the top teams and big-time players who happen to be best friends was worth the price of admission. There could be a second opportunity to see the Rams and Lions face off. They are the top two seeds in the Division II state tournament. If they meet, it would be at Mohegan Sun Arena in the final. Many fans from both sides would sign up for that in a heartbeat.

Photo caption: Bristol Central boys basketball was able to celebrate its second straight CCC tournament championship on Wednesday night in Enfield. (Photo credit: Pete Wininger, Bristol Central principal via Twitter)