STAMFORD -- When the Westhill High School offense is operating at its highest efficiency, it looks something like the opening possession of Wednesday night's game.
The Vikings patiently held the ball for 27 seconds, using a quick sequence of passes that ended with Evan Skoparantzas scoring easily inside. There was no letdown from there, as Westhill used a stifling defensive effort to eliminate Newtown, perhaps the sentimental favorite of the entire CIAC boys basketball tournament, 56-34, in a Class LL second round game.
What transpired immediately after the opening tap was a popular topic of conversation following the game.
"We have so much chemistry," said Yveson Cassamajor, who led a balanced attack with 16 points. "We enjoy passing the ball to one another. There's no shot clock and we want the best shot possible. We took the right shots."
Skoparantzas added 13 points and 14 rebounds in a dominating performance in the paint.
It is a testament to Westhill's overall team play that it rolled even though its best player, Jeremiah Livingston, did not score until there was 6:27 left in the third quarter. Livingston and Terrell Middleton each scored 7 points.
"That was the main thing we wanted to do, we wanted to jump on them early," Westhill coach Howard White said. "What we did at the beginning was Westhill basketball, and we wanted to get back to doing that early."
After dropping five of six games, including an opening-round loss to Wilton in the FCIAC Tournament, the 13th-seeded Vikings (17-6) have bounced back with two strong efforts. They will now play at No. 5 East Hartford in the quarterfinal round.
"We kept hearing about our losing streak at the end," Cassamajor said. "We wanted to do what we had done all season, play good defense and move the basketball."
Westhill took control with a 12-2 run that put it ahead, 23-11, late in the first half.
After the Nighthawks got within 28-21 midway through the third quarter, White applied the 1-3-1 halfcourt trap that has been so effective all year. The Vikings forced four turnovers in a three minute span and used a 12-0 run to remove any remaining mystery.
"I purposely waited on that," White said. "The man to man was working. Also it becomes a lot more effective and creates more turnovers when a team is not prepared for the 1-3-1."
It was a bittersweet night for the 29th-seeded Nighthawks, who provided what will likely be the biggest upset of the playoffs when they knocked off No. 4 Crosby in the opening round.
Newtown qualified for the tournament despite opening the season with three straight losses, ending it with four straight defeats and surviving another three-game losing streak in between. It was also a sentimental favorite because of the tragedy the town has endured this winter.
Connor Quinn scored 9 points and Mike Daubert added 8 for the Nighthawks, who ended the season 9-14.
"We wanted to go further," said Newtown coach Tim Tallcouch, who, along with his top assistant, Jeff Bussey, is a former head coach at Westhill. "I have to be proud of the kids all year long. They came to play and they came to play hard. I can't fault my kids' effort all year. If you are not going to rebound and you are not going to make shots, you are not going to win."
Tallcouch had praise for his former team, agreeing that this edition of the Vikings plays as well together as any group from the school in recent memory.
"That's the best defensive team I've seen in a long time," Tallcouch said.
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Connor Quinn 4 1-2 9; Mike Daubert 3 1-1 8; Jake Ball 1 0-0 2; Patrick Riccardi 1 0-0 2; Julian Dunn 3 0-0 6; Gavin Scallon 2 0-1 4; Sean Elliott 1 0-0 3; Troy Frangione 0 0-0 0; Tom Rahr 0 0-0 0; Jeremy Doski 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 15 2-4 34.
Jeremiah Livingston 2 3-4 7; Terrell Middleton 3 1-2 7; C.J. Donaldson 3 0-0 6; Evan Skoparantzas 5 3-6 13; Yveson Cassamajor 6 3-5 16; Guyveson Cassamajor 1 0-0 3; Ariel De La Cruz 0 0-0 0; Marquis Giddiens 1 0-0 2; Malik Claybourne 1 0-0 2; Peter Horn 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 22 10-17 56.
NEWTOWN 9 5 11 9--34
WESTHILL 15 8 20 13--56
3-point shots: N--Daubert, Elliott; W--Y. Cassamajor, G. Cassamajor.