WILTON — Johnny Briody would probably be a low double-digit scorer on most teams in the FCIAC. Playing for Ridgefield, he more often is happy to keep the ball moving rather than being the end point.
“We have a ton of guys who can score and a ton of guys who can pass,” Briody said. “Whoever is on the court, they can score, they can pass it, they can defend. One guy gets locked up on de, another steps up. That’s really how we work.”
Tonight, in the Tigers’ favorite game of the regular season, against Wilton, Briody’s teammates were the focal point of the defense. And Briody was more than happy to be the one that stepped up.
Briody made five 3-point shots and led a balanced attack with 17 points to help the Tigers to a 68-48 road win, moving them one step closer to the top seed in the league playoffs with the finish line firmly in sight.
The Warriors unsurprisingly were focused on Luke McGarrity and Chris Knachel, who had scored 20 points apiece in the previous two games. Briody decided this was the right night, with the right setting, for the ball movement to stop with him.
“I was feeling it a little bit more tonight,” Briody said. “Maybe the atmosphere in the gym. My guys got me the ball and they happened to fall.”
Knachel (16 points) and McGarrity (13) still got their chances, while Amos Grey scored seven of his nine points in the final quarter. The Tigers (16-2, 13-1 FCIAC), who won their ninth straight game, led by 10 points, 24-14, at halftime. Wilton got within four midway through the third quarter before the Tigers methodically built the advantage back up and extended it.
“Johnny Briody had a good shooting night,” Ridgefield coach Andrew McClellan said. “Clearly they were concerned about Luke. They gave him a lot of attention. And Christopher. So Johnny was open. That’s the story of our season. We clearly have two leading scorers who are our best players but every single game we get one or two other guys to step up offensively and seven or eight guys to step in and create havoc on defense.”
The Warriors (10-8, 9-5), who need one more win to clinch a league playoff berth, had a six-game winning streak halted. They made just four of 11 shots in the first quarter and struggled from the perimeter.
“We couldn’t make shots,” Wilton coach Joel Geriak said. “We got wide open looks. Give them some credit. Obviously their defense makes you shoot some shots and I’m sure their gameplan was to make us shoot from different spots, but we had to make something. When you have 14 points in a half you are not going to beat anyone.”
Andrew Smith, who hit three 3-pointers in the third quarter to try and rally the Warriors, finished with 20 points. Kyle Hyzy, hurt by foul trouble and the Tigers’ pressure, was held to four points.
“I’m super proud of the boys,” McClellan said. “I’m really happy with where our defense is right now. I thought at the beginning of the game there was too much emotion. I thought after the first half of the first quarter, certainly after the first quarter, we settled in how we wanted to play. I thought we made it super hard for Hyzy and Smith, two All-FCIAC players, and limiting the others.”
Geriak put the best description yet on what is shaping up as the Tigers’ best regular season: “They’re well-coached. They know what they are doing, they have set plays, they run their man-to-man defense very well, we know what they’re going to do but they make the shots when they have to. They chip away. Now it’s five, now it’s 10, now it’s 15, now it’s 20, what happened?”
Wilton, which has been one of the league’s top teams over the second half of the season, finish with two tough road games: at Stamford and Staples.
The Tigers, who have a one game lead over Trinity Catholic, the one team they have lost to in league play, finish at home against Westhill and Danbury, which have been eliminated from playoff contention.
Ridgefield has a few extra days to enjoy what is always a coveted victory.
“The Wilton game is always circled on the calendar every year,” Briody said. “We have a lot of fun. The kids have a lot of fun. The week leading up to it, a great time. A ton of energy in the gym. It’s the best rivalry in the FCIAC.”