FAIRFIELD – Fairfield Warde coach Ryan Swaller drew up a play with his team down one point with less than a minute remaining in tonight’s game against Staples. With the talented duo of Jordyn and Justyn Davis available, as well as Ben Steele, who had been hot off the bench all night, Swaller had two or three solid options for what would be the deciding play of the game.
But as best-laid plans often go, the Mustangs strategy of getting the ball inside was stymied by Staples. Warde had to turn to Option 4: Senior Brendan McMahon.
Not a bad option at all.
McMahon was ready just in case at the top of the key and when Jordyn Davis got stopped near the hoop, he tossed it back to McMahon. One dribble and then . . . swish. Warde led by two with 35 seconds remaining. McMahon’s two ensuing free throws with 18 seconds left on the clock sealed Warde’s 63-58 victory.
“(McMahon) is a senior and a leader and we rely on him a lot,” Swaller said after the Mustangs (7-2, 4-1 FCIAC) survived this battle of playoff contenders. “When the ball is in his hands, good things happen.”
It was McMahon’s only basket in the second half after making two 3-pointers in the first half. Justyn Davis led the Mustangs with 19 points and five rebounds while Steele had 14 points and Jordyn Davis added 12 points for the Mustangs, who were missing starter Dennis Parker, who was ill.
The Wreckers (8-2, 4-2), meanwhile, were without their No. 1 option: senior Jake Thaw, who is day-to-day with an ankle injury. Lucas Basich picked up the slack quite well for Staples, however, finishing with a game-high 26 points. He made six 3-pointers in the first half, when he scored 20 of his points, but because the Wreckers only used seven players and all five starters played at least 27 minutes, fatigue clearly set in during the second half, when Basich scored just six points and made one field goal.
It was a three- or four-point game throughout. The biggest lead was Warde’s eight-point advantage (42-34) early in the third quarter. Staples led only briefly at the start of the fourth quarter.
“We showed a lot of fight playing without Thaw,” Staples coach Colin Devine said. “Not to take credit away from Warde but if we meet again and both teams are healthy, well, it will be a great game.”
Swaller understood Devine’s mindset.
“If I’m them in the locker room after the game,” Swaller said, “I’d be saying to the kids, ‘I want to see them again at full strength.’ ”
Losing option No. 1 may indeed have been pivotal for Staples, but Warde used its balanced attack — and fourth option — to come away with the victory.
“I told them that if the first option wasn’t there, look to the top of the key,” Swaller said. “They had been giving us a lot of open looks at the top of the key. So (McMahon) got the ball and knocked it down.”
Warde made 22 of 49 field goal attempts (Staples was 22 for 48), and many were on the perimeter, so there were no gasps heard in the Warde gym when McMahon’s shot took flight.
“The play didn’t work so I had to take the matter in my own hands,” McMahon said. “Last year against Staples it was tied in the final seconds and I made two free throws to win it, so I took the shot with confidence. I know I hadn’t made a shot (in the second half) but I stayed locked in.”
“When (McMahon) shoots the ball, we have confidence in him,” Justyn Davis said. “He has such a nice arch on his shots. I knew it was going in.”
Staples then committed an unforced turnover on its next possession and had to foul. The Wreckers fouled the wrong guy. McMahon swished a pair and with a five-point lead and 18 seconds remaining, was home free.
I always step to the line with confidence,” McMahon said. “You have to make your free throws. I didn’t feel any pressure. I always treat it like it’s an empty gym.”
The Wreckers refused to quit despite the absence of Thaw because of the shooting of Basich. He made 6 of 8 3-point attempts in the first half and had 20 of the team’s 32 points.
“He hit a lot of tough shots,” Swaller said. “He looked like an all-league player to me even though he’s only a junior. But I think he got tired a little in the second half.”
“Credit the Warde defense for (limiting Basich in the second half),” Devine said. “But we were right there to the end playing without Thaw.”
Benny Feuer was the only other Wrecker in double figures with 13 points. A.J. Konstanty added eight rebounds for Staples.
Jack McKenna had eight rebounds for Warde.