Having lost its top seven players from a year ago to a combination of graduation and transfer, it would be understandable if the New Milford boys' basketball team experienced growing pains this winter.
The Green Wave, as inexperienced as they are, have had some struggles but have also shown plenty of bright spots.
Coach Al Tolomeo's group has earned hard-fought wins over New Fairfield (58-56) and Brookfield (73-70), as well as handed Masuk its first defeat following a 5-0 start with a decisive win before the Panthers returned the favor in a rematch. The Green Wave opened the season with a 62-61 loss to Norwalk and most recently pushed one of the conference's best, Newtown, to the wire in a 52-50 loss on February 6.
"They're great kids. They work hard," Tolomeo said.
"There are times, two to three minute spurts, they're very impressive and you feel like we can play with anybody," said Tolomeo, adding that lack of varsity experience shows at times. "We're very inexperienced."
Against Newtown, the Green Wave led 21-19 at the half and built a 39-32 lead through three quarters of play.
Newtown battled back, on the heels of a hard-fought 54-43 setback to Immaculate two days earlier, and got the win behind 15 points apiece from Jack Petersen and Joe McCray and 13 from Riley Ward.
The Wave was led by freshman standout Jojo Wallace with 19. Nate Lawson scored nine, Andrew Grinnell had seven and Sam Tarrant and James Farley both added six.
Petersen's steal and basket cut New Milford's deficit to a point at 45-44 with 2:05 left. Farley hit a clutch front end one and one foul shot and his second free throw for a 47-44 lead with 1:39 to go.
Just after Ward tied the game with a 3-pointer, Wallace hit a baseline jumper for a 49-47 lead with 1:10 left. McCray's 3-pointer with 1:01 to go gave Newtown's its first lead since the opening quarter. Ward went to the line for a one and one opportunity and cashed in with 24 seconds left, pushing the lead to 52-49.
Wallace hit one of two foul shots with 19 seconds left; the Green Wave got the offensive rebound following the second foul shot attempt but couldn't capitalize. After missed one and one foul shot by NHS, the Wave had a chance in the final seconds but came up just shy.
NHS Coach Tim Tallcouch said his team struggled against New Milford's 2-3 zone defense but was pleased with how his players turned things around, especially defensively, in the fourth quarter.