BRISTOLVILLE - Halfway through the second quarter, Bristol looked to be in a dogfight with Chalker at home.
The Wildcats pulled to within three points after Tommy Hall split a pair of free throws at the 4:20 mark, and to make matters worse, leading-scorer Brandon Lee picked up his third foul on the play and had to sit out the rest of the half.
While the team may have struggled last year in a similar situation, the Panthers showed they have more depth in this season's squad, as they rallied to go on a 9-1 run to finish the half and ran away from the Wildcats in the second half for a 78-54 win.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Bristol’s Brandon Lee (24)?drives past Chalker’s Tommy Hall and makes a basket after Bristol forced a turnover by Chalker at midcourt during the third quarter on Friday night. Bristol beat its rival, 78-54, to stay unbeaten on the season.
Bristol coach Craig Giesy said having a bench of 10 to 12 players deep allows him to tinker with the right combination of players during games, and once the Panthers (6-0, 2-0 Northeastern Athletic Conference) found the right combination on Friday night, the change in energy levels allowed Bristol to blow past the Wildcats (3-1, 3-1 NAC).
"I think the turning point was our energy changed," Giesy said. "I think it was just a matter of finding the personnel out there that wanted to go hard the entire time, wanted to play within our system. We've got some guys that can play. They went in there and did some things that changed the momentum of the game, and that carried over to the second half."
One of the players who made a difference was starter Alex Jones, who scored seven of his nine points during Bristol's run to end the second quarter. The sophomore, who played 25 games as a freshman, scored the first seven points of the run.
Jones almost had a double-double by halftime, scoring all nine of his points and grabbing nine rebounds before the break. The 6-foot-3 forward finished with 12 rebounds.
"He is without a doubt the hardest-working player that I have coached and probably will coach," Giesy said of Jones. "He worked his butt off all summer long to get where he's at. It's good to see success from him.
"He played last year not because of his ability necessarily, but because of his leadership skills and because of his determination, and that got him on the floor as a freshman. As a sophomore, I have nothing but high praise for Alex Jones."
In the second half, the Panthers just poured points down on the Wildcats, with everyone getting in on the action. Although Lee still managed to get a game-high 21 points (12 in the first quarter alone), 11 Panthers made the scoresheet, including nine different players in the second half. Four players - Lee, Johnny Simcox, Logan Koeth and Gary Hopson - reached double figures, with the latter three contributing 10 each to the cause.
"We've got more guys that can score - it's not just me and Chad (Oliver)," Lee said. "Now, we've got four, five guys that can put up double digits. It helps out, it doesn't put a lot of pressure on me to do all the scoring."
Chalker seemed sapped during the third quarter, in which the Panthers went on a 25-10 run. The patented Bristol press played a role in the Wildcats struggles, as they committed nine turnovers in the third quarter and 29 throughout the game.
"We lack of a lot of (ball) handlers, so it puts a lot of pressure on a couple guys to handle the ball most of the game," Chalker coach Mike Karr said. "Certainly, that pressure wears on them mentally. I think that has more of an effect sometimes than physically, and I think that played a big part tonight."
Although the game ended in a rout, Giesy said he saw why Chalker came into Friday night with an unblemished record. Based on the first-half performance, the Bristol coach said Chalker will be a force to be reckoned with in the conference in the future.
"That program is good right now, but it's going to be very good in the future," Giesy said. "It's only going to get better as they go along. Southington is going to be one of the teams to beat coming to the end of this year and into next year and the following years."