By Emery Filmer
FAIRFIELD – There were 103 field goal attempts and 72 free throws taken during Saturday’s Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference quarterfinal opener at Fairfield Ludlowe High School. But perhaps the biggest one of them all — the shortest shot of them all — helped Norwalk advance past Bassick.
“After that dunk everything changed,” Norwalk’s Roy Kane Jr., said about his resounding slam dunk in the final minute of the first quarter. Norwalk, which had fallen behind by 10 points in the first seven minutes, would eventually emerge with a 72-63 victory.
“After that everyone started playing hard,” Kane continued. “The crowd and the bench came alive and, you know, players play off intensity.”
Norwalk (16-5), the third seed, fell behind 13-3 with one minute remaining in the first quarter. It was then that Bassick’s Kobe Ancrum saw an opening and streaked in toward the basket for an uncontested dunk. But Ancrum’s attempt went off the back rim and flew out to the top of the key, where Norwalk gained control. A couple of seconds later Jones got the ball and swooped in for a gym-rattling dunk that ignited the turnaround.
Midway through the second quarter Norwalk had completed a 23-3 run to take a 26-16 lead.
“The first quarter we packed it in against them but it didn’t work; it put us asleep instead of them,” Norwalk coach Tom Keyes said. “Then one fortunate play (the dunk) helped us catch some momentum. It got our blood flowing and we started playing hard.”
The lifeless Bears looked like a different team and, save for one hot Bassick stretch midway through the third period, they remained in control of the game.
“The dunk was definitely a momentum-changer,” Bassick coach Bernie Lofton said. “After that Norwalk played with a lot of emotion.”
Bassick (14-7), the sixth seed, did a good enough job on Kane, one of the top players in the state. The 6-foot-6 senior had 19 points to go with 13 rebounds, leaving him a career total of 1,499 points heading into Tuesday’s semifinals against Wilton, which advanced Saturday with a 56-45 victory over Fairfield Ludlowe.
That was a solid outing for sure, but considerably less than the 46 points and 22 rebounds Kane had in the teams’ earlier meeting on Feb. 18. The Bears lost that one, 75-68, so Kane gladly took the tradeoff.
“I knew I’d get doubled but everybody else picked it up,” Kane said.
Zaire Wilson led Norwalk with 20 points and Jeremy Linton had 10, but it was a total team effort. Eight different Bears scored in the second quarter when the game turned around.
“We got contributions from a lot of guys,” Keyes said. “Everybody did their job.”
For seven minutes, however, it looked as if Kane and his fellow seniors would end their scholastic careers without an FCIAC playoff victory, despite the team’s status as a championship contender the last four seasons. But after Kane’s dunk and the four-point swing, the Bears don’t have to worry about hearing about that anymore.
Norwalk scored four more points after Kane’s dunk before Bassick’s Curhone Baldwin drained a 3 at the buzzer, giving Bassick a 16-9 lead. But Norwalk scored 17 points in a row behind Kane and Linton, who had eight of his points in the decisive second quarter.
“We started aggressively and attacked the basket, but we couldn’t make a shot in the second quarter,” Lofton said.
Bassick, however, wouldn’t fold. Led by Rajohn James (18 points) and Ancrum (11), the Lions got all even at 45 in the final minute of the third quarter. But the Bears were good enough from the free-throw line — 13 of 22 in the fourth quarter — to seal it in the final four minutes.
Norwalk was 19 for 49 from the field and 31 for 45 from the line in the physical, foul-plagued contest. Bassick, which committed 22 turnovers while forcing 21, made 21 of 54 shots and was 15 of 27 from the line.
Wilton 56, Fairfield Ludlowe 45
Led by 20-point-plus scorer Matt Shifrin, Wilton can shoot the ball; everyone who follows the FCIAC knows that. So overcoming an 11-point, second-quarter deficit against Ludlowe was not that shocking.
But the way the seventh-seed Warriors (15-6) did it — holding a strong offensive team to just three points in the third quarter and totally controlling the paint — was a pleasant surprise for their coach, Joel Geriak.
“I can’t say enough about Matt,” Geriak said of his senior sharp-shooter, who led all scorers with 25 points. “But we played good defense and all of our ‘bigs’ did a great job boxing out.”
Wilton’s front line, led by Lucas Savoie and Mike Bingamin, controlled the boards but, more importantly, with help from Scott Shouvlin, the Warriors frustrated Ludlowe’s top player 6-4 Matt Doyle. Doyle was held to 9 points during a rather poor shooting day.
“We did a great job taking away Doyle,” Geriak said. “Every shot he took was just that much off.”
Ludlowe (15-6), the No. 2 seed in the tournament, came out on fire and led Wilton 22-11 early in the second quarter. The Falcons looked on their way to Tuesday’s semifinals. But instead it will be Wilton battling Norwalk in the semifinals after the Warriors turned the game around. Wilton went on a 14-6 run in the final five minutes of the second quarter, then outscored Ludlowe, 15-3, in the third quarter. Ludlowe missed 12 of its first 13 shots in the third period.
“We didn’t shoot well after the first quarter,” Ludlowe coach John Dailey said. “They did a great job guarding Matt. Everything he put up was contested.”
Wilton went on a 10-0 run to start the second half and took a nine-point lead into the final quarter. Besides the boxing out and the strong defense, there was also Shifrin doing his thing.
“We’ve had games this year when we’ve taken our foot off the pedal but we never stopped attacking today,” Shifrin said. “I had a good game but the key was how we boxed out underneath.”
Once Shifrin and Scott Shouvlin (10 points) started getting hot from outside, and Bingamin (10 points) took over inside, the Falcons knew they were in trouble. Bingamin scored on a huge putback with 2:35 remaining to make it 53-42 and basically seal it.
“We can’t go zone on them because they shoot it so well,” Dailey said. “But it wasn’t just him. The other guys made their shots and I thought besides Bingamin, Savoie also played really well inside.”
Darren Lee led Ludlowe, which did close to within six in the fourth quarter, with 16 points. Doyle and Chad Peterson added nine points for the Falcons.