STAMFORD — Faces. That was the word Westhill boys basketball coach Howard White used most often following his team’s 67-63 win over Trinity Catholic on Wednesday night.
Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck were nowhere to be found.
“The faces that we are making have got to stop,” White said. “I’m upset with the faces. The crying.”
White lit into his players in the locker room following the game. Though the Vikings had led by as many as 15 points early in the third quarter only to be outscored 30-12 over the next eight minutes and relinquish the lead, they regrouped and played well in one of the best games of the regular season.
But while his team’s performance was good enough to beat Trinity, it was not good enough to win an FCIAC championship. And make no mistake, though Bridgeport Central enters the FCIAC Tournament on Saturday as the prohibitive favorite, anything less than the program’s first title since 1989 will be unsatisfactory in White’s eyes.
“That’s right,” White said. “We are going to have to play better, especially on defense.”
The Vikings (16-4), the No. 4 seed, will have no problems getting up for its quarterfinal opponent: city rival Stamford, the No. 5 seed. The Black Knights won the first meeting, on Jan. 12, 62-49.
White was somewhat cryptic talking about the matchup.
“I changed my game plan against Stamford and I’m not going to do that this time,” White said. “We are going to tune up some things and change some things, and that’s no excuse because Stamford beat us. But we didn’t follow my philosophy.”
Asked what that philosophy was, White smiled and laughed. “The way we play defense,” he said.
Wednesday’s game was an example why Westhill is both a dangerous team to be feared and also susceptible to facing an early exit.
The obvious: Jeremiah Livingston is a game-changer. Against Trinity, he scored 11 of the Vikings’ final 12 points, finishing with 19.
“The last three minutes was Jeremiah beating Jeremiah,” White said. “Stepping up. He’s determined to take over the game.”
CJ Donaldson completes one of the league’s best backcourts, while Evan Skoparantzos, who finished with 15, including three 3-point shots, offers versatility in being able to contribute both in the paint and on the perimeter.
Then there was Tyrell Alexander, the sophomore who had his best game of the season, scoring 19 points on five 3-pointers, including three in a three-minute stretch late in the first half.
“What we need for him to do is continue to grow,” White said. “That’s another weapon.”
The counterbalance was that lost lead, the lapses on defense. On the opening possession of the second half, Tremaine Fraiser, who scored a game-high 25 points, hit an uncontested 3-pointer.
White called a timeout. Eleven seconds had elapsed.
“There’s no call for what we were doing,” White said. “If we play selfish like we did in the third quarter than we are not going to win games.”
It could be worse. The Crusaders are sitting out the FCIAC Tournament for the first time since 1997. They don’t even have an outright city title as a parting gift, though they get to keep the trophy since the three teams split their games.
Trinity looked like it was going to mail in its performance early, then treated the contest like hardware was at stake. It was a microcosm of the Crusaders’ season. They lost their chance at a playoff berth in the first month, losing their first five league games.
Westhill is the only team that beat Central this season. The pieces are there for a semifinal meeting. They are also there for a first-round departure.
“The three wins we got, I’m happy with that,” White said of his team’s end-of-season run. “I’m not comfortable with the faces.”
White expects them to be smiling after Saturday night.