FAIRFIELD — If still in need of a theme song, Fairfield Ludlowe boys basketball coach John Dailey should have The Rolling Stones’ Winning Ugly blaring from the speakers.
This is not meant as an insult.
Quite the contrary. At a time when fundamentals have become a lost art in basketball, the combination of SportsCenter highlights and AAU being two of the biggest culprits, the Falcons are not only still masters, but they do it on both ends of the court.
And these days, defense is often an unwanted pitstop between possessions.
Case in point: Ludlowe’s 56-40 home win over Wilton on Tuesday night, with securement of the second seed in Saturday’s FCIAC Tournament at stake. Trailing, 8-5, midway through the first quarter, the Falcons did not allow the league’s highest-octane team to make a field goal for a stretch of 15 minutes and 19 seconds, by which time they had used a pair of runs to take a 10-point lead.
Ludlowe just built on it the rest of the way to improve to 14-5 over all and 13-4 in league play.
“Our whole game plan revolved around our defense tonight, tough man-to-man, disruptive,” said Ludlowe coach John Dailey. “Contest every single 3. We wanted to make them earn everything they got.”
Matt Shifrin, the Warriors’ star guard, was held to a very quiet 15 points before leaving in the closing minutes with a sprained ankle, the severity of which was undetermined afterward.
Wilton is a team that lives and dies by its outside shooting, and it was 3 for 21 in the first half on Monday. Sure, the Warriors missed some wide open looks, but some of those were rushed because of being accustomed to having a Ludlowe hand obscuring their view all night.
Asked about his team’s offensive problems, Wilton coach Joel Geriak said, “That is mostly on them. They imposed their will today, offensively, defensively, physically. Give them credit. They were much more prepared for the game than we were.”
Wilton (14-5, 12-5), which can finish as the third seed with a win over Bassick on Wednesday, made just 10 field goals.
“They’re physical in the right way,” Geriak said. “They make you take off balance shots; their size has something to do with that. We’re not that big. It’s hard to explain what they do, but they run their stuff very well.”
One thing is getting back on defense. Every time Shifrin got out on what he thought was a break, there would be three Ludlowe defenders waiting for him to set up the half-court offense.
“That was the key,” Dailey said. “We know Matt likes to get the ball and push it up the floor, and we get a couple of guys back and stop them in transition.”
Chad Peterson is as much a face of the Falcons as any one player in the league is for his team. Matt Doyle (17 points) is the offensive star, but Peterson is the one assigned to the other team’s best scorer. He is tall enough to go inside, agile enough to control the perimeter.
“I love playing defense,” said Peterson, who has been working through a bulging disc in his back that limits his practice time. “We really focused on that the whole week, especially after the Westhill game, which was our worst defensive game. You work not to let your man score. You get back, especially on Shif, and bottle him up.”
Ludlowe now gets to sleep in on Saturday, assured of a 2 p.m. game on its home court.
The Falcons were a preseason sleeper, a team that perhaps could even get a mid-seed. No one was talking about No. 2, though perhaps some were thinking it.
“I thought so,” Dailey said of the possibility. “I thought if we could learn how to win, which we did early, and get better and better every day.”
No one was connecting the Falcons and championships during word association games.
But defense wins games in the postseason, and that is their craft.
In this crazy season, Winning Ugly might just carry you all the way.