Jan. 20—EAST LYME — Sometimes basketball is played under the bright lights, the way it was for the New London High School girls' basketball team over the weekend in the Rose Classic in Brooklyn, N.Y.
"The atmosphere's great. It's Brooklyn," New London coach Tammy Millsaps was saying of her team's two games prior to Wednesday night. "The hype ... the music's hype, the crowd is hype, the person on the microphone is hype, the official will let you play and be a little more physical than normal. It's just an awesome environment to be in for a couple of games."
And then some games, like Wednesday's against East Lyme in an Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I matchup, are played in the trenches. Resilience required.
Playing without freshman force Serenity Lancaster in the post for the second straight game, New London held on for a 47-32 victory over East Lyme, highlighted by a 15-0 run in the second quarter which yielded a 30-9 lead. Nalyce Dudley had 20 points for the Whalers (9-3 overall, 3-0 Division I) and Zanashia Croft and Olivia Goode had 10 each.
Izzy Pazzaglia had 16 points for East Lyme (3-7, 1-2).
Among the adjustments New London has had to make this season:
Where would the Whalers find the mettle to play Notre Dame of Fairfield and Hand, two of the top teams in Connecticut, with only five players? Where would they find offense when they were missing Dudley for a key game against Bacon Academy? And how would they play defense and rebound against East Lyme without Lancaster?
"I feel like we just really work well together," said Dudley, a junior forward. "I know with Ky-Ani (Allgood) coming off of JV, she really stepped up. With Serenity not being here and stepping up ... I feel like we all came together and stepped up as a team."
Millsaps said some parts of the game the Whalers showed more resilience than others, with the first half going fairly well before waning as time went on. New London held East Lyme without a field goal from the beginning moments of the second quarter until Pazzaglia scored with 1 minute, 56 seconds to go in the third.
East Lyme though, outscored New London 22-17 in the second half.
"It wasn't our best effort," said Millsaps, who said only that she expected Lancaster to return soon. "I think the challenges of everything going on (with the starts and stops of COVID-19), I've noticed you can be as tough on the kids as you want, but there comes a time when there's a mental block and I think tonight we definitely had a mental block.
"But we will move on. We're going to go play on Friday and you have to teach the kids to push through and persevere through the challenges of a season. These last two years haven't been anything like we've experienced in coaching."
New London's two-game stretch in Brooklyn included a 51-50 loss to Archbishop Molloy on Saturday and a 57-46 victory over Frederick Douglass Academy on Monday behind 27 points and 18 rebounds from Dudley. Dudley finished with 40 points in the two games, with the Whalers traveling back and forth between Brooklyn between games.
New London was 4-7 during last year's COVID-19-shortened season, but is noticeably improved in every facet in this, Millsaps' second season. With no regular-season divisional titles awarded last year during the pandemic, the Whalers are vying for their eighth straight ECC division championship.
"All the kids have gotten better," Millsaps said. "Olivia's gotten better, Jamya (Beddoe has) gotten better, Nalyce got better. I think having an AAU season where they could get up and down the court, get games in, has been really beneficial.
"The other side of that is I think they're buying in — not I think, I know. I know I'm not the easiest coach to play for. I'm very demanding in what we expect from our players and it took them a while to really buy into the culture we're trying to establish here. They bought in. They bought in."
"We took a lot of things from New York and we bring it back," Dudley said. "... This year we had a lot of time now to really work together. We're just becoming stronger more and more every day."