At halftime of Monday's Class LL state opener, Staples High believed it was in a manageable position given the circumstances.
The 25th-seeded Wreckers -- playing for the first time since a regular season-ending loss to Bassick 12 days earlier -- trailed a more physical, deeper team, No. 8 New Britain, by just three points on the road.
But, as strong a first half as Staples might've played, the Hurricanes quickly created some separation. Before long, the Wreckers' chances, and their season, were spiraling to an end.
Riding four different scorers in double-figures, New Britain opened a 21-point lead in the second half and trumped the Wreckers 71-58 to advance to the second round.
"They were hitting shots. I think contested shots," Staples coach Colin Devine said. "Their lead kind of snowballed on us."
"That's been our M.O. all year," New Britain coach Todd Stigliano said. "We have five guys that averaged double-figures the entire season, and our sixth guy averages nine (points per game). We have great balance and we tried to use that to our advantage."
New Britain improved to 17-4 and will host No. 9 Ridgefield (17-5) Wednesday in the second round. The Tigers advanced with a 58-47 win over Greenwich (11-11) on Monday.
The Hurricanes trailed 27-26 late in the second quarter after a 3-pointer by Staples' Peter Rankowitz, but took the lead for good with four straight points to close the half up 30-27.
After both teams struck from the perimeter for much of the first half, the Hurricanes worked their way into the paint late and piled up points. Leading 40-37 late in the third, the Hurricanes opened their largest lead at the time (nine points) with an 8-2 spurt.
"All year long we've talked about trying to go inside-out. Hyman and Johnson played great tonight," Stigliano said. "(Staples') guards is what makes them go. We wanted to try to exploit it in the paint. And it helped us."
Guard James Frusciante led Staples with 15 points, while forward Ross Whelan scored 11. Rankowitz -- an all-FCIAC guard and the team's leading scorer during the regular season -- had 10 points, and just one after halftime.
New Britain led Staples 48-42 after three quarters.
"They definitely turned up the pressure in the third quarter. They were really getting after it defensively," Rankowitz said. "Working hard on the defensive end gets easy buckets on the offensive end. They had a lot of points in the paint in that quarter."
As Staples went cold from the floor in the second half, New Britain built its lead more and more. The Hurricanes opened the fourth quarter on an 8-0 run to go up 56-42.
"A couple empty possessions for us," Devine said, "led out to easy baskets for them, kind of got their offense going. It was just tough to recover from that."
With New Britain already carving up Staples inside the paint, the Wreckers' frontcourt became more limited when 6-foot-3 junior Darryle Wiggins (eight points) fouled out midway through the fourth.
"To get him out of the game early in foul trouble," Stigliano said, "changes the game a little bit, because they're not that deep in the post. That's very big for us to use the inside presence."
Staples got as close as 11 points, 56-45, early in the fourth, but New Britain responded with a 10-0 run to all but close it out.
Junior guard David Katz chipped in eight points off the bench for the Wreckers.
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No. 8 NEW BRITAIN 71, No. 25 STAPLES 58
Jake Melnick 0 0-0 0 James Frusciante 5 2-4 15 David Katz 3 0-0 8 Andrew Felman 0 0-0 0 Nick Esposito 1 0-0 2 Darryle Wiggins 3 2-4 8 Ross Whelan 4 0-0 11 Peter Rankowitz 4 1-2 10 Nick Ward 0 0-0 0 Alex Addessi 2 0-0 4. Totals 22 5-10 58.
NEW BRITAIN (17-4)
Isaiah Vasquez 0 0-0 0 Kevin Tirado 1 0-1 3 Marc Alberti 0 0-0 0 Ronday McCray 0 0-0 0 Daequone Clark 4 0-0 9 Curtis Hyman 9 0-0 18 Curtell Hyman 0 0-0 0 Michael Robinson 7 0-1 14 Annuel Saint Juste 5 0-0 15 Craven Johnson 4 4-6 12. Totals 30 4-8 71.
STAPLES.....................16 11 15 16 -- 58
NEW BRITAIN............. 16 14 18 23 -- 71
3-pointers: S -- Frusciante 3, Katz 2, Whelan, Rankowitz; NB-- Saint Juste 3, Clark, Tirado.
Fouled out: S -- Wiggins.