Are three mediocre games a fair tradeoff for a great one?
After Saturday’s FCIAC boys basketball quarterfinals, the answer here is a resounding yes.
The word great has been used sparingly this winter when it comes to the sport, and not really at all for an individual game. But the overtime battle between Wilton and Fairfield Warde Saturday afternoon was spectacular in so many ways.
It was an up-tempo race from the opening tap, which made it a rarity to begin with. The early-going was a 3-point shooting contest between the teams, with the Mustangs’ Matt Becker and Matt Houghton trading long range shots with just about every Wilton player that was on the court.
Each team had spurts to turn deficits into leads, but they were never separated by more than eight points. And the Mustangs would like to have the final minute of regulation and overtime back.
Warde had a three-point lead in regulation with 1:17 left. Wilton’s Nick Kronenberg tied the score at 69-69 with 53 seconds left. The Mustangs held for a final shot but Becker, who finished with 30 points, was off target for one of the few times.
The last 56 seconds of overtime will be more painful for Warde, which had a six-point lead with 1:18 remaining and was up five with under a minute to go. The Mustangs had two turnovers, one unforced and one a steal by Kronenberg that resulted in Reilly Bingaman’s putback with 2.9 seconds remaining to complete a finishing 7-0 run.
A terrific game was played with a terrific atmosphere: Wilton has the best basketball fans in the FCIAC and they are not strictly “homers” but hit the road. Warde might be No. 2 on the list so there was a charge in the gym that was absent from the other three games.
The Mustangs, getting the advantage of playing on their home court, put forth a tremendous effort. They have turned things around over the last few weeks after a disappointing start, in large part because Becker and Houghton are playing up to expectations and the supporting cast is more experienced. With the right draw they could do some damage in the state playoffs.
The comeback lends further credence to the Warriors having some special mojo going. Now they have homecourt advantage for the semifinals and, if they advance, the final, which means the stands under the near basket will be filled with Wilton students.
Some other quarterfinal thoughts.
• The rest of Saturday brought us pretty pedestrian results. Danbury took a lead with a second-quarter run and Stamford was never able to cut into it. Javon Hernandez did a nice job running the offense, Danali Burton is a given but the major revelation was Jah Joyner, a situational player who scored 13 points to go with his inside presence rebounding and on defense.
The Hatters could use a reprisal by Joyner against the shorter Warriors. I am sure Wilton will continue to run. It has the superior depth. I also am guessing the Hatters will be looking at some zone defenses and challenged to make outside shots.
I picked Wilton to win this game and on the home court I have to stick with it.
• The Ridgefield-New Canaan game played out almost to expectations. It was a close, each team had leads, the Tigers’ James St. Pierre was the deciding factor in the end. New Canaan had an eight-point advantage early in the second half before St. Pierre went off. The Rams are not constructed to play from behind and hadn’t in a while.
Trumbull played a strange game with St. Joseph, taking a quick 17-3 lead, letting the Cadets get within four and then using its transition game to pull away.
I picked the Eagles to win this semifinal game and with their deeper roster, on a big floor, I see them returning to the final.
• A real anomaly: Stamford and Warde are now a combined 0-9 when I cover them. Zach, Ryan, I will try my best to stay away during the state playoffs.
• The All-FCIAC team will be announced later in the week and it will be interesting to see who gets Player of the Year. I have a feeling a strong final month by St. Pierre will earn him the honor. Denali Burton and Timmond Williams are the likely other finalists, and they have stronger supporting casts than St. Pierre. And there are some coaches who would take Chris Brown as the first pick off the Trumbull roster.
Those four are locks for the All-FCIAC team. The league honors eight players. I stick with five and picking the fifth person is a tough call. There are probably three candidates. You will have to wait on my selections until after the season.