RIDGEFIELD — The Ridgefield boys basketball team was trying to kill clock with a 10-point lead over Trumbull and 90 seconds remaining when the Eagles’ Quentar Taylor came in and stripped the ball, sending it high into the air.
Taylor shaked his head in frustration when his apparent steal ended up in the hands of the Tigers’ Luke McGarrity.
Good teams create their own luck, and while Ridgefield is still a work in progress, the retooled defending FCIAC champion is still among the league’s elite.
Though missed free throws and three long shots by the Eagles’ Johnny McCain created a few anxious moments, the Tigers held on for a 73-70 win in a rematch of last year’s league semifinal game to remain unbeaten in conference play.
“At the end we lost our composure and let up a few open 3s, but I don’t think like we ever felt we would lose the game,” said Chris Knachel, who led Ridgefield with 22 points. “We felt in control. It kind of slipped away a little bit at the end but eventually we were able to maintain our lead and win the game.”
The Tigers did avenge a tough regular-season loss a year ago when they lost a late lead and the game at Trumbull on an improbable buzzer-beater by Timmond Williams.
While some of the dynamics have changed, the Tigers’ core attributes — strong defense, good ball movement, sound fundamentals — remain intact.
“We’re getting better,” Ridgefield coach Andrew McClellan said. “We’re a little too spurty right now and you saw a little bit of that tonight. When we get runs on both sides we’re really good, but we’re not mature enough for a full quarter at a time yet, much less four quarters. That’s what our teams usually look like in February, March. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Luke McGarrity finished with 16 points and Johnny Briody added 13 for Ridgefield (5-1, 3-0 FCIAC), which finished off a strong week that started with a win at Stamford.
McCain led the Eagles (5-2, 2-1) with 24 points on eight 3-pointers, five in the final quarter. Mileeq Green added 13 points and Taylor, the dynamic point guard, finished with 12.
But the Eagles, not for lack of effort, were unable to come all the way back from a late 12-point deficit.
“Trumbull is really good again this year,” McClellan said. “Everyone thought they’d be down. Q is a maestro with the ball, impossible to defend, and then they had a bunch of kids make jump shots so that’s a really good win for us. To beat Stamford and Trumbull already, I’m really proud of our guys.”
Ridgefield scored the game’s first eight points and Trumbull responded with the next 10. From there, neither team led by more than five points until the Tigers, spurred by Knachel, started to slowly open up a lead midway through the third quarter.
Amos Grey’s layup to beat the buzzer put the Tigers up, 54-46, and they were ahead, 69-57, after a Knachel drive with 2:25 remaining.
Green finished a feed from Taylor for a layup and then came Taylor’s near-steal.
But the Tigers made just two of seven free throws, missing the front ends of two one-and-ones, before McGarrity made a pair of foul shots with seven seconds left for a 73-67 lead.
In between, McCain put on a long-distance shooting show. Lance Walsh had a 3-pointer rim out with 20 seconds left that would haver made it a one-point game. McCain hit a final shot with 1.2 seconds left but the Tigers ran out the clock.
“We have to clean up that fourth quarter with our free throws but there’s nothing to be ashamed of,” McClellan said. “That kid hit bombs. Bombs. If he doesn’t make one of those there’s not even a sweat there. But he made some really big shots. Trumbull is a top three program the last five years so they’re not going to go quietly.”
The Tigers’ biggest loss from a year ago was James St. Pierre, but they are playing the same style while using a collaborative effort to make up the scoring.
“James was a huge loss but we all came together and we’ve been playing together for years, so our chemistry is great and we’re just happy to play together every night,” Knachel said. “We still have a lot to work on, a lot to improve upon, but so far I can’t really complain a lot about how things have gone.”