The Conard boys basketball team’s 71-56 win over crosstown West Hartford rival Hall was the most number of victories in school history.
By Paul Palmer
Conard boys’ basketball coach Jared Leghorn has believed in his team all season long – even when others did not. After winning its 18th game of the season, the eighth straight, on Tuesday night against Hall, Leghorn is done hearing his team referred to as underdog.
“If someone tells me we are underdogs, I’ll lose it,” Leghorn said.
Tuesday’s regular season finale was a typical Conard win this season. Timely shooting, strong rebounding, and a big effort from Riley Fox and Jalen Hamblin.
The senior Hamblin and the sophomore Fox combined for 17 of the team’s 23 first quarter points. Hamblin hit from outside and inside – on one play taking a great bounce pass from Ryan Bushnell and laying it in in transition.
For Fox, the points came from outside and inside. With his team up 10, Fox missed a shot, got his own rebound, missed that follow-up, but got that rebound and put it in.
“I am so proud of them this whole season,” said Leghorn of his players. “It has never been about who got the credit, winning mattered.”
On a night when most fans could have used a canoe to get into the game through the storm, Conard decided to bring it inside and rain 3s in the second quarter. A quick 3-spree had the Chieftains up 18 just over three minutes into the second quarter.
Fox and teammate Kyle Barnum did most of the damage from beyond the arc. Hall continued to fight back behind the scoring of Makyle Ramos, Ixael Albino, and Spencer Berson, but they were simply outmatched by Conard. At the half it was 43-23, with Fox tallying 20, Hamblin chipping in 11, and Barnum draining four 3s for 12 points.
Hall would outscore Conard 16-15 in the third as the Chieftains went cold for the opening three minutes of the quarter. But the packed house did get something to cheer about – twice – when Fox would thrown down a pair of dunks. The first came off a Hall turnover and Fox found himself all alone at the other end. The second came off a long rebound, and an outlet pass to Fox who raced by a defender for the jam.
Conard got a scare in the fourth when senior big man Bushnell was hit in the eye and had to come out of the game. But Leghorn said while his senior player was good to go by late in the game, he left him on the bench. Fox would put the finishing touch on the game when he hit a 3 for his 40th, 41st, and 42nd points on the night. In the game, Conard hit 13 3-pointers.
The victory let Conard achieve three of the goals it set for itself at the start of the season. “We wanted the best record in school history, and we did that (18-2),” said Leghorn. “We wanted a home CCC Tournament game and we got that, and we wanted to sweep Hall after they swept us last season.”
Hall ends the season with a 7-13 record.
The Chieftains will host a Central Connecticut Conference (CCC) Tournament opening round game on Thursday at 5 p.m. against an opponent not yet determined. From there, the CCC Tourney shifts to Enfield High for the remainder of play. That will be followed by the CIAC State Tournament.
The road to winning either of those tournaments will not be easy. Coming into the CCC post-season, Conard is ranked third behind unbeaten Bristol Central and once-beaten Northwest Catholic – the only two teams to beat the Chieftains this season.
“I won’t be disappointed no matter the outcome of the post-season,” Leghorn said, as he celebrated a school-best season, and got ready to add to the win total.
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