Boys Basketball

Commentary: Senators Climb As They Learn To Win Close Games

Ridgefield coach Andrew McClellan talks to his players before the start of Wednesday's game with McMahon. (Photo: Dave Ruden)

Ridgefield coach Andrew McClellan talks to his players before the start of Wednesday’s game with McMahon. (Photo: Dave Ruden)

NORWALK — Ken Dustin said there is not much analytical study needed to account for his Brien McMahon boys basketball team’s ascension up the FCIAC standings.

When the Senators lost six of their first eight games, it was by a combined margin of 22 points. The biggest defeat: by seven points against Stamford.

“We’ve been playing close games the entire season,” Dustin said Wednesday night after the latest one, a hard-fought, grind-it-out 65-61 overtime decision over Ridgefield.

The difference now is the Senators have been executing a little better, playing more aggressively on the defensive end of the floor.

The result is a four-game winning streak that has left McMahon with an 11-7 mark and right now sitting in the No. 6 seed in the standings. All four victories have come against teams already in or also battling to get into the conference tournament. The last three have been by a combined 10 points.

“They just have this confidence about them now,” Dustin said. “They are playing with such poise. Nothing is going to rattle them.”

Not even a Ridgefield team that has been one of the state’s best-kept secrets. The Tigers came into the night with a 13-3 mark, the losses coming in succession to Stamford, Greenwich and Bridgeport Central. Eight straight wins have followed.

Yet the Tigers have been the least-talked about of the FCIAC teams at the top of the standings. They are a pair of never-out-of-style wing-tips in a blue-suede shoes world.

Ridgefield has flourished because it, too, plays well defensively, is as fundamentally sound as any team in the league and is patient finding open shots.

First-year coach Andrew McClellan is in the conversation when the topic of Coach of the Year comes up

Against McMahon, with star guard Matt Brennan again sidelined with a knee injury, and Patrick Racy suffering through one of his worst shooting nights — “We like playing at home with our rims,” the Senators’ Larry McKinney admitted — the Tigers had a 45-40 lead early in the fourth quarter behind a big night from guard Charlie Irwin, who finished with 23 points.

Advertisement

But the Tigers couldn’t seal the deal, in large part because the Senators wouldn’t let them. Six straight points, the last four by McKinney, put McMahon up by a point, and led to a frantic finish in which there were six lead changes in the final six minutes.

Racy, to his credit playing through his adversity and looking to lead, made three straight field goals to put Ridgefield up, 56-55, with 45 seconds left. But Tim Hinton’s free throw forced overtime.

McMahon was able to hold Irwin scoreless through the final 8:40. And the Senators got the balance they have relied on, led by McKinney’s 23 points. Jahmerikah Green-Younger added 15, Hinton finished with 12 and Delquan Howard had 9.

“It’s all about teamwork,” McKinney said. “We aren’t just a bunch of individuals.”

McKinney is the poster child of that ethic. He finished with 10 points in a win against Greenwich, but was in double figures in assists. He is the Senators’ chameleon, adapting his role to the flow of play.

“That’s exactly my game,” McKinney said proudly. “Everyone comments about my scoring. I don’t care about scoring. I’m a pass-first point guard.”

Dustin endorsed that statement.

“That’s exactly it,” Dustin said. “He does whatever I need him to do. I can’t say enough about him.”

Dustin said there were no adjustments made to counteract the Tigers.

“I didn’t really do anything,” Dustin said. “Maybe switched some personnel a little bit.”

What the Senators did was win another close game, the kind they were losing earlier in the season. The kind that, assuming they qualify, will serve them well come the FCIAC Tournament.