(Editor’s note: This gamer, published in the Feb. 22, 2013, edition of the Republican-American, recaps Kaynor Tech’s basketball victory over Kennedy High. This story was a finalist at the 2013 Connecticut SPJ Awards among sports news stories in the 40,000-plus circulation category.)
WATERBURY, Conn. — A black panther roamed the sidelines of Kaynor Tech’s gym Thursday night, but a black sheep may be the best representation of the school’s usual presence in Waterbury high school basketball.
Kaynor Tech is in the midst of one of its best seasons ever, but without regular matchups against the other city schools the Panthers are often forgotten.
So when they hosted Kennedy in each team’s regular-season finale, they had a chance to go from unnoticed to undeniable.
“I didn’t know we were playing them until the beginning of the season,” star Panthers guard Terrance Thompson said, “but when I heard about it I knew it would be our chance to prove to everybody that we can play.”
Kaynor Tech led almost the entire game, opening as much as a 20-point lead en route to a 74-67 victory over the Eagles before an estimated 800 fans on the Panthers’ senior night.
It all came despite Kaynor Tech (19-1) spotting Kennedy (14-6) a 7-0 lead to start the game. But once Thompson hit his team’s first bucket, a 3-pointer that pushed him to the 1,000-point plateau for his career, the momentum shifted to and stayed with the Panthers.
“The first couple minutes we were too excited,” said Thompson, who scored a game-high 24 points, including five 3-pointers. “Once we settled down and got it under control we just played our game.”
That shot from downtown kickstarted a 17-2 run for the Panthers in which Terrance and Rayon Thompson each hit two 3-pointers to give Kaynor Tech a 17-9 lead.
The brothers hooked up with just seconds remaining in the period when Rayon found Terrance, who hit a fadeaway from outside the arc to make it a 22-14 Panthers lead.
The Thompsons took a bit of a back seat to Tre-Kel Douglas (18 points) in the second quarter. Douglas scored eight of Kaynor Tech’s last 10 points of the period to give his team a 38-30 lead at the break.
“I do not wish to ever have a team where there’s only one go-to guy because all another team has to do is come shut him down,” Kaynor Tech coach Hank Spellman said. “All of our plays are designed for everyone to get a piece of the ball. We can make the extra pass and get a better shot.”
Douglas and both Thompsons all stayed hot early in the third when the Panthers opened the half with a 12-0 run to take a 50-30 lead, their largest of the game. It prompted Kennedy coach Armand LeVasseur to make an entire line change between free throws.
“Our first five wasn’t showing any energy,” LeVasseur said. “It went from an eight-point lead to a 20-point lead in 2 minutes. I’ve got guys (on the bench) who have good experience and it worked out.”
Kennedy’s backups, including Tyreek Middleton, Tyrone Timmons, Elijah Martin and D’Andre Boatwright, helped trim Kaynor Tech’s lead to 55-43 entering the fourth.
When the Eagles’ starters came back on early in the fourth, they cut the deficit to single digits for the first time since halftime on the strength of a Wallace Wiggins 3-pointer and back-to-back scores by Isaiah Wright. Both scored 18 points for Kennedy.
But Kaynor Tech cleaned up its brief stretch of turnover-ridden play and clamped back down on defense to stretch out the lead again. Tre’Von Gibbs (14 points, 20 rebounds) made it a 59-50 lead with a baseline dunk before finding Douglas in the post the next trip to get the advantage back to double digits.
Terrance Thompson capped a 10-3 run with a steal and fast-break layup to make it a 67-53 Kaynor Tech lead with about 2 minutes to play.
“The great teams turn it up when they need to turn it up,” Spellman said. “Our defense is our bread and butter. When we turn our defense up you see what happens.”
Kennedy didn’t get back to within seven until Wright hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The Eagles will be the No. 3 seed in the Naugatuck Valley League tournament but enter having lost three of four. They will face Watertown on Saturday.
Kaynor Tech, meanwhile, will open up Constitution State Conference tournament play as the favorite Monday and will be the No. 2 seed in next month’s Class M state tournament.
The Panthers have accomplished one task: gaining respect in Waterbury. The rest of their objectives are for postseason hardware.
“We just have to do what we do,” Terrance Thompson said. “I think we can go all the way.”
(Editor’s note: Here’s how the story looked in print.)