FAIRFIELD — In terms of contrasts, the difference between the Fairfield Ludlowe and Norwalk boys basketball teams was far greater than the 14 points that separated them following the Falcons’ 54-40 home win on Friday night.
When it comes to team chemistry, there may not be a bigger gap in the FCIAC.
True or not, the body language of the Norwalk players gives the impression that they can barely stand spending 32 minutes on the same floor together. It perhaps accounts for three poor second halves that led to losses against the toughest opponents the Bears have faced so far.
The Falcons, on the other hand, move and share the ball so quickly that you get the impression any player that fails to get a touch on a possession is apologized to as they get back on defense.
It is a quality the Falcons’ coach, John Dailey, takes obvious pride in.
“It’s something we’ve preached since day one,” Dailey said. “Playing for each other, playing together, winning together, and it is starting to pay off. We’re really holding each other accountable.”
Ludlowe (11-3, 10-2 FCIAC) opened the game with a 12-2 lead, with half the points coming from Matt Doyle, who finished with a game-high 23. Norwalk stayed close through early in the third quarter before a 10-2 run put Ludlowe ahead, 40-26.
“The 2-3 was really effective,” Dailey said of the Falcons’ defense, designed to shut down Bears star Roy Kane, who finished with 15 point. “We extended it and tried to get out on the shooters, and we knew we had to attack Roy Kane, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that. He hurt us on the glass in the first half.”
Owen Mockler scored a career-high 11 points for Ludlowe, while defensive specialist Chad Peterson finished with 9 points and 6 rebounds.
Given the way they lost, a case can be made that the Bears are at a crossroads. They traded positions with Ludlowe, falling to the third-best record in the league, but had technical fouls assessed to coach Tom Keyes, Kane and Bryant Bracey. The continued lack of poise has to be a major concern for the long-term outlook.
“Inexcusable,” Keyes said. “On me, that’s inexcusable, Roy’s technical foul, inexcusable, Bryant’s technical foul, inexcusable. The defense was awful, that’s inexcusable. Every facet of the game, from filling up the water, we were awful tonight. No one that came on the Norwalk bus did their job tonight. As far as how we played tonight, I’m embarrassed. The kids on the team are embarrassed.”
Just how embarrassed will be determined in the weeks ahead, starting Tuesday at home against Stamford, another quality opponent. Are the Bears, a team many feel have the best personnel in the conference, content to ride where the waters take them? Or will the urgency to win a championship for a team comprised of many seniors summon qualities that have been lacking in recent seasons?
Asked to account for his team’s second-half difficulties against the best of the FCIAC, Keyes said, “Those are good teams we’ve struggled against. Obviously we’ve got to get tougher in the second half.”
None of this would be a question if the Bears didn’t have the skill level to win their first FCIAC title since 1998.
But as they may or may not be realizing, ability is mitigated without an accompanying basketball IQ.
If Keyes needs a teaching tool, all he has to do is pull out the tape from Friday night. Ludlowe is certainly not without ability, though it is not at the natural level of the Bears’. But when you couple that with intelligent play, your overall game is maximized.
On Friday it was enough for an easy 14-point win.