Eastern boys top Central for most regular season wins since 2009-10 campaign

The Bristol Eastern boys basketball team goes into the Central Connecticut Conference tournament with some good momentum. That’s what happens when you win 16 games in the regular season.

The Lancers finished off their regular season with a 62-50 win over city rival Bristol Central on Monday night in the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium. Eastern’s regular season record is 16-4, the best mark for the program since the 2009-10 squad went 18-2. That Lancer team finished with a 20-4 record overall after winning two more games in the Class L state tournament.

It’s been a wild journey for Eastern over the past few seasons. Seniors Brayden Dauphinais, Lukas Sward, Ben D’Amato, Isaiah Lawrence-Bynum and Ben Kozikowski were freshmen during the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season. Eastern went 3-9 that season.

A tough sophomore campaign (4-16) was followed by a 10-11 junior season that included Eastern’s first state tournament appearance since 2014-15. The Lancers again had a six-win jump between seasons, going from 10-11 in 2022-23 to 16-4 this season. That doesn’t happen without hard work from all involved, from head coach Bunty Ray to his assistants to all of the players ranging from the starters to the reserves who push them every day in practice.

Eastern won eight of nine to close the regular season, including Monday’s victory over Central. It didn’t come easily, though. The Rams got out to early leads in the first quarter, but the Lancers used a 10-0 burst to close the opening eight minutes with a 17-11 advantage. That run included a D’Amato 3-pointer to tie the game, 11-11, with 2:20 on the clock.

Eastern wound up extending its run to 21-3 and built a 28-14 lead in the second quarter. As usual, the offense came from several different players. There was a D’Amato 3-pointer, a terrific up-and-under move by Daveyn Tate, and a Dauphinais basket and the foul.

Central closed to within 29-23, but Eastern scored the last four points of the half, including a Sward basket off a Tate assist, to lead by 10 at the half, 33-23.

Central used the outside sharpshooting of Mikey McMahon to pull to within 35-31, but Eastern got a big 3-pointer from Sward, along with a couple nice buckets from Tate, to get the lead back to 10 by the end of the third quarter, 48-38. 

Carmelo Thompson’s 3-pointer got Central inside of 10 points at 48-41 early in the fourth quarter, but Sward’s key follow-up on an inside miss pushed Eastern’s advantage to 50-41 with 6:46 to play. Sward later stole the ball, drove and scored for a 56-43 advantage with 4:17 to go.

In an ode to great teamwork, Eastern’s final field goal of the day came on a Tate layup following an extra pass from Brady Bell. Sward got the ball to Bell in the lane from the top of the key, then Bell quickly found Tate on his left, who laid it in.

Eastern will play in a first round CCC tournament game on Thursday. After play concludes in the CCC tournament, the Lancers take on state challengers in Division IV. Eastern is the No. 7 team in Division IV as of the publishing of this story.