FAIRFIELD — Akim Joseph is an immovable force in the paint. He is especially dangerous when there are no defenders in his path and shots are delivered on a downward trajectory.
That was the position Joseph found himself in tonight for much of the third quarter, when Trinity Catholic’s leader scored eight of his 13 points, with three of the four baskets coming on dunks. That fueled a 10-0 run that broke open a close game and led the Crusaders to a 60-45 road win at Fairfield Warde, a showdown between two of the favorites for the FCIAC title.
Joseph was the beneficiary of a stifling defensive effort that saw steals and turnovers turned into baskets with regularity.
“We were practicing hard for the game tonight and I thought we did a great job defensively in the second half,” Joseph said. “We started a little slower in the first half. We talked about it in the locker room and came hard in the third quarter. We got a lot of stops.”
It was the sixth straight win for the Crusaders (10-5, 9-2 FCIAC), who have found their groove and are unbeaten since transfer guard Malcolm Newman became eligible.
Newman finished with a game-high 20 points, splitting time creating and finishing.
“He’s just an unbelievable leader in all the subtle ways,” Trinity coach Brian Kriftcher said. “It’s just that mentality when he’s on the court, everyone feels a little more confident because of his tenacity on defense. He’s good with the ball and he doesn’t take a play off. That filters down to the rest of our team.”
Andrew St. Louis, one of the league’s most underrated players, finished with 14 points for Trinity, which used just six players.
The Crusaders’ athleticism may prove a dynamic that sets them apart from the rest of the league but they are going to be a difficult postseason out if they can continue to tap the tenacity on the defensive end.
“It starts with our defense,” Kriftcher said. “We don’t want to get in an offensive situation where we are just spreading the floor and guys are going one on one. That’s never going to be our style because team defenses are too good. But if we can play defense ourselves we can get out in transition and good things happen. We have guys who are good with the ball in space.”
Warde (11-3, 8-2) had won seven straight and 10 of its previous 11 games. The first half was close — the Crusaders’ 29-24 lead at the break was their biggest — but the Mustangs fell victim to the same defensive pressure it used in Monday night’s win over town rival Fairfield Ludlowe.
“They get out in transition more than I thought they would,” Warde coach Ryan Swaller said. “Malcolm did a great job of getting the transition going, the rebounding going. And we didn’t make shots. It’s easy when you are missing long 3s to go on transition and we watched the transition happen. We didn’t rebound, we didn’t get back on defense.”
Brendan McMahon scored 17 points to lead the Mustangs. Justyn Davis added 12.
“We talk about the highs and lows and Monday was such a high and unfortunately for us it stayed for two days,” Swaller said. “We were still caught up in the moment.”
Trinity is averaging a 20-point margin of victory during this streak and have a 29-point win over Ridgefield, which is tied with St. Joseph for first place in the league, a half game ahead.
“That’s the first time I had three dunks in a game,” Joseph said. “That’s why we have to play defense hard. We have to push the ball faster. That’s our strength. We’re athletic so we have to do that all the time. We’ve been waiting for this. We have to keep winning.”