Kolbe Cathedral can’t recover from slow start, falls to Hand in DIII basketball chamnpionship

UNCASVILLE — It didn’t matter if it was a layup, mid-range, or 3-point jump shot, nothing would fall for top-seeded Kolbe Cathedral in the first 16 minutes at Mohegan Sun Arena.

The Cougars could only muster two first half field goals and dug a hole too deep to climb out of as they fell to third-seeded Daniel Hand 56-39 in the Division III boys basketball championship game Saturday afternoon.

“I think we had unbelievably good shots in the first half. When you go 2-for-23 in the half, you can’t set up your pressure,” Kolbe Cathedral head coach John Pfohl said. “When we scored, we pressed and turned them over a lot. It was just too little too late.”

Whether it was bad shot selection or good Daniel Hand defense, Kolbe Cathedral found themselves down 11-2 six minutes into the game. The lead swelled to 14 after the first quarter and got up to 24 at the half as the Cougars could not buy a basket.

“I think we had ten shots in the first half that somehow rolled off the rim that everyone in the gym thought was going to go in,” Pfohl said. “It wasn’t our night; you have to give them credit.”

The beginning of the second half looked like Kolbe Cathedral had the makings of a possible comeback. The Cougars began to make shots, force turnovers, and turn to sophomore Najimi George. George scored 14 of Kolbe Cathedral’s 15 points of the third quarter and cut the lead to 16 at the end of the third.

“It’s a championship quality program. We knew we had not seen their final shot yet,” Daniel Hand head coach Jimmy Economopoulos said. “They continued to play hard, and they made some plays.”

After the strong third quarter, it became more of the same for Kolbe Cathedral in the final quarter - missed shots, careless turnovers, and time slipping away.

Kolbe Cathedral was led by George, who scored 19 points. In his final game as a Cougar, Tyrell Staples-Santos scored 10 points while adding 5 rebounds and 4 assists.

“I feel bad for my seniors, but I am so proud of them,” Pfohl said. “I told the younger guys on the bench that we have a chance to come back to this someday. Our four seniors put us in a great place today, and we should feel really good about that. There were only two teams playing in Division III, and we were one of them.”

Following Kolbe Cathedral’s semifinal win over Kennedy on Wednesday night, Pfohl said that he looks at this year’s team and senior class differently than most due to the obstacles they had to endure prior to their first and only state tournament run.

“They overcame adversity. I call it adversity on and off the court,” Pfohl said. “There’s always adversity on the court. The adversity that we’ve dealt with for the last two years off the court, no one’s been through before. As a grown man, I should be able to handle things better than kids do. It’s remarkable how they did and what they went through.”

BY THE NUMBERS

1974 - Daniel Hand’s last state championship appearance prior to Saturday. Saturday’s championship was the first title in school history.

73 - State championships for Daniel Hand sports outside of boys’ basketball. The Tigers’ championship on Saturday marked the 74th state title across 17 sports.

19 - Points off turnovers created by Daniel Hand (forced 14 Kolbe Cathedral turnovers).

26.9% - Kolbe Cathedral’s layup percentage (7-26).

0 - Seconds Daniel Hand trailed against Kolbe Cathedral.