FAIRFIELD — Everyone knows to stop Fairfield Warde, you have to contain Sean Conway.
Tonight the rest of the league learned the Mustangs are hardly a one-person team.
In a showcase game in a season where there have been few of them, Warde put on a magnificent shooting display, led by as many as 30 points and came away with an impressive 75-58 win over Wilton.
“That whole team can shoot better than I thought they could,” Wilton coach Joel Geriak said after his team’s defense was shredded for 14 3-point shots. “I knew they could shoot but they didn’t miss. They are a good team. They are well balanced. That’s what makes them a good team.”
Conway finished with 25 points — “How?” said Warde coach Ryan Swaller with a smile, noting the understated way the league’s top scorer can accumulate baskets — while Matt Houghton had a coming-out party, scoring 24 points, all on 3-pointers.
“I don’t think so,” Houghton said when asked if he ever had a better game. “I got hot and I let it fly. Credit to my teammates, they were finding me and I was hitting my shots.”
The Mustangs improved to 7-2 and at 6-0 remain with Ridgefield the only undefeated team in FCIAC play. They also further muddled a first half of the season where there does not yet appear to be a clear-cut favorite — or favorites — but many contenders.
Perhaps the Mustangs have received the least attention from a group that includes the Warriors, Danbury, Trinity Catholic and Ridgefield.
That will soon change.
“We’re a good group together,” Swaller said. “They trust one another, they believe in one another and tonight they tried their best to take Sean out of the game. They were physical with him, they were bumping him and he got his touches, but the touches were when we went to the extra pass. Credit to Matt with knocking those shots down.”
Matt Becker added 11 points and Chris Bogan 8 for Warde, which also could soon be getting back Malcolm Brune, who sustained a concussion on the eve of the season and has not yet played.
Both teams were overanxious during the first few minutes, but a basket by Houghton midway through the opening quarter ignited a 25-2 run that broke the game open and sent a boisterous home Warde crowd into a frenzy.
Every time the Warriors tried to cut into the lead, Warde had an answer. They got within 14 points early in the third quarter, but Houghton made three straight shots in less than 90 seconds, followed by a steal and layup from Jeff Seganos.
Wilton responded with its own 10-0 run, but that was countered by nine straight points by the Mustangs, fueled by Conway.
“When you have the crowd, the environment, the guys that work hard, it’s fun to play,” Swaller said. “The level of excitement is there and it helps coming out as strong as we did and keeping the momentum going. I was pretty proud of the third quarter. We controlled that run and kept it under control. They went on that run and we answered right back.”
Scott Cunningham finished with 23 points to lead the Warriors (6-3, 4-2). Kyle Maatallah added 9.
Both teams are remarkably similar in style — there might not be two more identical teams in the conference — but on this night the Mustangs excelled at creating open looks and making them.
“We didn’t play well on defense at all,” Geriak said. “We worked on it the last day and a half and we didn’t follow the scouting report the way we wanted to, but that being said, give them credit, they didn’t miss. They passed the ball well, they shared the ball. They are a different team than they were last year. They look better than last year.”
Conway is a factor even without the ball, drawing extra attention that provides his teammates with uncontested chances.
“Extra movement, from the top, to the middle, to the outside,” Swaller said. “Making that extra pass is huge. Especially when you’re focused on one guy, it opens up. Two or three guys have open shots.”
Those other two or three guys haven’t been getting the acclaim before tonight, but Houghton said that it is not even a consideration.
“Not at all. All everyone cares about is winning and that’s how it should be,” Houghton said. “It doesn’t matter how many shots anyone gets. It’s the final score.”