East Catholic boys stage epic comeback, repeat as state Division I basketball champion

Mar. 18—UNCASVILLE — It was a tale of two halves.

The first saw the East Catholic boys basketball team show their Mr. Hyde.

The Eagles trailed by as many as 18 points in a first half that ended with them looking up at a 30-18 halftime deficit.

And in the second half...

Dr. Jekyll showed up.

Fueled by a hellacious defense, East Catholic came roaring back.

And after Northwest Catholic supplied an answer, the top-seeded Eagles found a way.

Found a way to defend their Division I state championship.

James Jones finished with a game-high 24 points and split a pair of free throws with .8 of a second left for the finishing touch as top-seeded East Catholic (26-1) made it a repeat with a 49-47 victory over second-seeded Northwest Catholic (21-4) Saturday night at Mohegan Sun Arena.

"Those guys are the greatest," East Catholic coach Luke Reilly said. "They responded, didn't quit, stayed within striking distance and believed in one another and found a way to get it done.

"It's just magic."

East Catholic, which won its eighth state title in program history — has won the last three Division I tournament titles that have been held — winning in 2019 and 2022. There were no tournaments in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Eagles took their first lead on two free throws by Preston Fowler (12 points) with 39.6 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Gianni Mirabello answered with a three-pointer that put the Lions back in front 37-35 heading into the fourth quarter.

And in the fourth, East Catholic led 45-41 with 3:22 remaining on a Fowler coast-to-coast drive, eurostep and layup by Fowler.

It was not over yet.

Northwest Catholic responded as James Nierdko connected on back-to-back three-pointers for a 47-45 lead with 2:04 remaining.

Jones made one of two free throws to pull the Eagles within one at 47-46 and his lay-up in the final minute put East Catholic ahead for good.

London Jemison scored 23 points for Northwest Catholic, which was playing East Catholic for the first time in a state championship game.