By Dave Ruden
NORWALK — The last game was six days ago, the practice routine, because of the weather and midterms, is out of sorts and one of its two stars was sick and performing at less than 100 percent.
With all that, the Greenwich High School boys basketball team still found a way to squeeze out a very ugly 40-38 win at Norwalk on Thursday night.
There is a pattern here. Last week the Cardinals went to Ridgefield and won a close game. They have rolled easily, rallied late, but they have won. Nine times in nine games.
“To play poorly and still win a game and learn lessons is a luxury,” Greenwich coach Bill Brehm said.
Bridgeport Central and Greenwich have created some separation from the rest of the FCIAC pack as the season reaches the midpoint. The Cardinals have discovered that a strong pair — CJ Byrd and Alex Wolf — along with contributions from some unheralded players is sufficient in a year when few teams can match their dynamic 1-2 punch.
It was Byrd’s turn against Norwalk. After the Bears’ Roy Kane scored 5 straight points to open the fourth quarter and put his team ahead, 34-29, Byrd took over, scoring 8 of the Cardinals’ final 11 points. He finished with 17.
Included was a coast-to-coast layup following a Kane miss that was the end of a 7-0 run.
For a player who embraces space and had been caught up in the half-court trench warfare, it was a welcome opportunity.
“Once I saw no one was coming up from behind me I just wanted to attack the basket figuring if I didn’t make it they’d foul me,” Byrd said.
Brehm knows enough to fold his arms and watch when Byrd is in that situation.
“He’s the kind of player, if he has the ball in the open court we’re not saying set up the offense,” Brehm said. “Just let him go, and he usually ends up doing good things for us.”
Byrd has had a breakout season. He is a primary reason for the Cardinals’ current position. The talent level is not that much better than the teams behind them, and to their credit the players have maintained the same drive they took into the season, wearing blinders to the outside praise.
The difference with Greenwich right now is the ability to find ways to win.
It is a skill the Bears are still trying to master. Considered a preseason contender, they fell to 4-5 with the loss.
Norwalk lost by just a point at Central. It has played with everybody but is still lacking that statement win. Another opportunity comes Friday night at Ridgefield.
“It was a tough loss,” Norwalk coach Thomas Keyes said. “Hats off to Greenwich, they played a good game, especially in the fourth quarter. They made some plays. We made a few too many mistakes.”
Kane has been carrying the Bears, and had another strong performance against Greenwich, finishing with a game-high 18 points. Norwalk has not allowed more than 46 points in the last four games. It had followed a three-game losing streak with a three-game winning streak prior to Thursday.
“The past 2 1/2 weeks I’ve gotten good effort from the kids,” Keyes said. “We’ve lost some tough games.”
Greenwich effectively switched defenses, taking the Bears out of a comfort level.
“Right now we have to try to figure something out on the offensive end,” Keyes said. “I felt tonight the guys settled for jumps shots when they could have been going to the basket.”
Two points separated the teams Thursday night. But while the Cardinals are fine-tuning their craft, the Bears are trying to break out of the developmental stage.
Right now the difference is four games in the conference standings.