STAMFORD — As CJ Donaldson’s 30-foot shot at the third-quarter buzzer tickled the net, giving the Westhill boys basketball team a 46-43 lead, Stamford coach Danny Melzer was pondering what words to use to motivate his players.
It was a very short internal conversation. When your players are facing their biggest rival — one their own classmates had spent the school day telling them they could not beat — a pep talk wasn’t really necessary.
“Actually I didn’t need to say anything because the kids were talking to themselves,” Melzer said following the Black Knights’ 62-49 win, another big spin in the ever-changing FCIAC boys basketball wheel. “I said we are a good team and we’re going to win the game in the fourth quarter.”
To use another sport as an analogy, this was the 12th round and the Black Knights came out throwing haymakers. Gianni Carwin hit a 3-point shot and another jumper with his foot on the line to climax a quarter-opening 15-0 run that left the No. 7-ranked team in the state reeling.
The Vikings’ Tyrelle Alexander followed with a 3-point shot — his team’s lone points of the quarter.
“This was a big win for us because everyone thought we were going to lose this game,” said Carwin, who finished with 24 points, including 4 3-point shots in the second half. “We just beat a really good team. Everyone was walking around school today saying we were going to lose.”
Asked if this were true, Melzer and center Kweshon Askew shaked their heads affirmatively.
The student body at Stamford hasn’t been paying attention. For one, the Black Knights started the day at 10-4, just a game and a half behind Westhill. It already had a win at Ridgefield. If you want to call Wednesday’s outcome an upset, consider it a minor one.
Stamford has now defeated the two highest-seeded teams in the conference it has faced; Greenwich and Bridgeport Central still await.
“What everyone was saying to us today, it made us hungry,” Carwin said. “Everyone sees Jeremiah scoring 40 and all that. We had to lock him down.”
Carwin was part of the crew that shut down Jeremiah Livingston, the Vikings’ star guard, who picked up two early fouls and never found his groove, finishing with 14 points before fouling out late.
Credit the Stamford defense with many of Livingston’s problems. Melzer threw a box-and-one at him, with Carwin getting much of the duty.
“I grew up with Jeremiah and we go at it all the time,” Carwin said. “He’s hard to guard. I felt we did a good job and I had help whenever he drove.”
Melzer threw in a little bit of a 2-3 zone for good measure.
“I thought we played the box-and-one fairly well, not great,” Melzer said. “We played the 2-3 well, and it’s not a defense that we’ve played a lot.”
Speaking of defense, if Carwin was not Stamford’s most valuable player of the night, than Askew was. The 6-7 center scored 13 points, but more importantly added 12 rebounds and 8 blocks.
During the game’s critical run, the Vikings could not rally because every shot they took off penetration was sent back in the other direction by Askew.
“I hate to sound like a broken record but Kew is the X-factor on our team,” said Melzer, indeed repeating a season-long refrain. “Kew is starting to play the way he can. When he plays like that and we get out and run the court like we did tonight, we are a dangerous team in transition.”
Askew stood close by and listened to his coach’s praise.
“I just went all out,” Askew said. “I had to block shots, get rebounds. I had to play with confidence. This team has had some good wins but a few bad losses.”
Twenty-four hours earlier, the Vikings (13-3) were in a position to climb into second place in the conference standings if Central had lost to Greenwich.
Now Westhill and Ridgefield are just a half-game ahead of Stamford for the third seed, with the Black Knights holding the tiebreaker.
There are plenty of twists and turns ahead over the final two weeks of the regular season. The Vikings are still searching for defensive consistency, especially on the perimeter.
“We got wide open shots,” Melzer said. “When we stay disciplined and run our stuff, we get wide open looks.”
Stamford has been on a roll, with four straight wins since a bad 14-point loss at Trinity Catholic.
Tuesday night was impressive enough to convert some skeptics. Maybe even the Black Knights’ own classmates.
“We are going to let them know, but we aren’t going to be very hostile,” Askew said. “We did all that on the court tonight. We proved them wrong. There’s no reason to do any more talking.”