WILTON — Drew Connolly is no stranger to taking over in big games.
It has just been a while since he has been forced into that position.
With the Wilton boys basketball team’s two best players sidelined with injuries, Connolly scored 20 of his game-high 27 points in the second half to spur a 59-56 come-from-behind win over Darien tonight.
“He was our third person last year, our three-headed beast,” said Wilton coach Joel Geriak, referring to Connolly, Matt Kronenberg and Jack Williams. “He became a senior leader tonight.”
Kronenberg landed hard after a fall in the first half and never returned. Kronenberg said his back tightened up and he did not think the injury was serious.
With Wilton (10-0, 7-0 FCIAC) trailing most of the second half, Williams made a steal, a wild layup and was fouled to tie the game at 40-40 with 4:09 left in the third quarter. But Williams, who is just back playing regular minutes after sustaining a torn ACL in the offseason, had to be helped off the court after the play. He said leaving the locker room after the game that he did not think he would miss much time.
Nick Kronenberg came in and completed the 3-point play to give the Warriors their first lead since the second quarter, but Darien (7-4, 6-2), which was bent on proving it is a legitimate contender, soon went back ahead.
Wilton held a lead for just 12 seconds in the final quarter until Connolly, who had just converted a pair of 3-point plays, made a pair of free throws for a 57-56 lead with 1:18 left.
On a night when both teams struggled taking care of the ball, Darien turned it over twice down the stretch and could not pull off the upset.
“It really goes to the testament of the team play,” Connolly said. “I don’t know how many teams can beat a team like that — that’s a really good team — without its two best players. We knew we would have to do things differently. Shots started falling and we just rolled and clawed our way back in.”
Williams finished with 15 points before departing.
“We showed our depth tonight, didn’t we?” Geriak said. “We settled, even before the injuries, for 3s more than I would have liked. I think they got scared of the big kid down low. (Darien center Alex) Preston is a good presence but you still have to attack him.”
Wilton was hurt by its shot selection and lost the battle of tempo as Darien got to play at a more methodical pace to utilize its assets.
Connolly compensated for the lapses.
“We calmed ourselves down,” Connolly said. “We still wanted to push the ball but not push to the point that we were forcing to the corner and just chucking up 3s,” Connolly said. “You never want to act worried but we were behind a lot in the second half. It’s a position we’ve been in. It’s these games that build character and the games that help you in the long run.”
Preston, the 6-8 center who causes matchup problems for all opposing coaches, finished with 16 points and was most impressive with his passing ability. Jack Tierney added 12 points.
It was a display of the growth the Darien program has made since Bentley, whose father Charlie is in the state Hall of Fame after a distinguished coaching career at Harding, took over three years ago.
“We stepped up to the challenge, we just made a lot of mistakes at the end,” Bentley said. “We are going to grow from this. We don’t have any choice but to grow from this. It’s a learning point. Wilton is a great team and their experience got them over.”
Wilton was in the same situation before Geriak arrived five years ago. Wilton went from an afterthought to frontrunner.
“It’s a totally different position, especially for this program,” Connolly said. “It has been coming for six years. It’s a good feeling. You want to play in games like that, especially when you win.”