Conant boys make statement with win

Not one member of the Conant boys basketball team was happy following their loss to Campbell on Jan. 14.

They knew it was a missed opportunity. But the Orioles are a much different team now and they made that point loud and clear with a 70-36 victory over the Cougars in Tuesday’s rematch.

“I was curious to see how the guys would play,” said coach Eric Saucier. “It’s been a month and a half and we’re two different teams.”

The win improved Conant to 16-1 overall and ran its win streak to nine straight with just one game remaining before the start of the Division III tournament next week. Barring a loss by Berlin, who also owns a 16-1 mark but has one more point with two wins over Division II Kennett compared to just one higher division win for Conant, the Orioles will finish as the No. 2 seed with a win at Bow on Friday.

They only scored seven more points this time around. The true difference in the game came on the defensive end. In the first meeting, Conant allowed a second half lead to disappear, surrendering a season-high 65 points.

“We gave up too many lay-ups last time,” said Saucier.

As of late, there has been a recommitment to defense after a stretch of giving up more than 55 points in three out of four games. Since that defensive aberration, the Orioles have held three straight opponents to 36 points or fewer.

“It was a total team effort,” said Saucier. “The game was really won on the defensive end.”

With the playoffs right around the corner, Conant needed a test. And with Campbell occupying the fifth spot — and the only team to hand the Orioles a loss — what better way to see where they stood.

“I think the guys know its crunch time and know what its going to take,” said Saucier.

After the first quarter, Conant actually trailed 11-7, but things changed quickly. A 22-point second quarter on offense coupled with Campbell only scoring eight turned the four-point deficit into a 29-19 halftime lead.

But the second half defense has been a concern for Saucier. While it has mostly happened in games where Conant has held a big advantage, the first game with Campbell is a prime example of needing to play a full four quarters.

And there was no question the Orioles were ready to do just that. Another huge offensive quarter in the third, 22 points, and a stingy defensive effort, seven points, made it a 51-26 game with eight minutes to play.

There was to be no comeback this time around.

“The guys knew the last time they gave up that lead and that we had to play for 32 minutes,” said Saucier.

Senior Devin Springfield scored a game-high 27 points. Junior Robert O’Brien followed with 22 and seven assists and Eli Hodgson added 10 points and seven rebounds.

While senior captain Jake Carlson did not score, his presence was felt after he missed the first meeting with a fractured right elbow.

“Just his leadership, his toughness and his defense was huge,” said Saucier.

All 17 of Conant’s wins have come by double digits, including seven straight to begin the year.

Conant will end its regular season at Bow on Friday, a team they defeated 68-27 on Jan. 18, and will host the preliminary round next Thursday.

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