GREENWICH — His team was 16 minutes away from losing its third straight game, and scouts from Dartmouth were sitting in the stands, which Greenwich center Alex Wolf was well aware of.
“I actually play really well under pressure,” said Wolf, who did just that in a 66-63 win Monday night over Stamford that featured the type of postseason intensity both teams will be facing starting in 12 days. “If I have to play like that I really step it up, and I thought I did this game.”
It is hard to remember when the 6-8 center was this assertive. He finished with 29 points and 18 rebounds. Wolf has put up such numbers before, but it was the manner in which they were compiled that stood out.
Wolf went up strong to the basket. Every errant shot on the offensive glass was a waiting scholarship opportunity.
Wolf played as if this was the most important game of his life.
“I was really composed,” Wolf said. “I was focused. “I was in the zone. I made no hesitation. I was aggressive. I was really happy with the way I played.”
It was the kind of dominance that Wolf is capable of, the kind the Cardinals are going to need in pursuit of their first-ever FCIAC championship.
“We call him the canine,” Greenwich coach Bill Brehm said. “The wolf. He played like an animal tonight.”
If Wolf can replicate this performance the next three weeks, the Cardinals (15-2), back in control of the second seed, are going to be a tough out in the playoffs. Wolf admitted doing so on a daily basis had less to do with the opposition on the other side of the court than the opponent in his mind.
“At times I kind of think about things too much,” Wolf said. “Should I do this, should I do that.”
Wolf, with 14 points, was the lone reason Greenwich trailed by just 39-31 at halftime. The surging Black Knights, in a position to move into the second seed and hold tiebreakers over the other three schools in contention, were flawless offensively.
Gianni Carwin hit a long 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer, his fifth of the half and the Black Knights’ seventh. This was against a team that prides itself on being one of the state’s best defensive teams.
“They were just dropping 3s on us,” Brehm said. “It became a little disconcerting.”
Wolf had the best read on the first half. It wasn’t that Greenwich was playing poorly so much as Stamford was performing at such a high level.
“Honestly, I thought we played a good first half,” Wolf said. “They were just knocking down 3s. At halftime it was just, guys, this is it, do or die. We really focused on defense. We picked it up in the second half. We executed.”
It took a little time. Kweshon Askew, the 6-6 center Stamford coach Danny Melzer calls the X-factor, and who has emerged as one over the last two weeks, opened the second half with a 3-point shot, then beat the defense down court for a layup as the Black Knights (12-5) built their lead up to 11 points.
But Carwin, who scored all 19 of his points in the first half, got few good looks thereafter as the Cardinals mixed in some match-up zone and then dominated on the offensive boards for easy second-chance points.
A 13-0 run, climaxed by two free throws from CJ Byrd (18 points), put Greenwich ahead, 52-51, for the first time since early in the opening quarter.
Stamford got to within three points and ran a great play with 2.1 seconds left to get off a good game-tying attempt, but Carwin’s shot him the rim.
Melzer was more disappointed with how his team saw its five-game winning streak end than with the loss itself.
“It’s frustrating,” Melzer said. “I don’t get too caught up in positioning. We just want to make the playoffs. Once you make the playoffs everyone is 0-0. The most frustrating thing is we played well offensively most of the game but our defense and rebounding weren’t good enough to win the game, and that’s something we pride ourselves on. That’s something we’ve done well all year. Tonight we just did a poor job of that.”
Book a rematch for, say, the Final Four of the conference tournament and league officials and fans would be most happy.
“We’re going to make the FCIAC playoffs, we’re going to makes states,” Wolf said. “Every game right now is preparing for them.”
If Monday night was just a tuneup for The Wolf of Hillside, watch out.