WESTPORT — Tuesday night was a bookend game for the Staples boys basketball team, evidence of the heights that can be soared when execution is the equal to effort.
Five days earlier, against Wilton, a likely FCIAC contender, the Wreckers labored to put the pieces together and lost by 19 points. They started the new year at the other extreme. Trailing by eight points early, Staples mixed defenses, moved the ball for open shots and defeated Danbury, another likely FCIAC contender, 58-44.
“Obviously this is a great team win,” Staples coach Colin Devine said. “We talked about responding in practice and competing on every possession, and our senior leadership came through tonight. We took care of the ball, got good shots, and held a very talented team to 44 points. That was our defensive effort.”
The Wreckers evened their overall record at 3-3 and their league mark at 1-1. Devine said he was not surprised by the way his players performed, and he was not alone. Staples has the personnel to play with anyone in the league. The question mark is whether it will be able to follow the template on a consistent basis.
“If we can do what we did tonight we are going to have a very successful season, and I feel we are going to do that,” Devine said.
The catalyst to Staples’ comeback from the slow start was Max Sussman, who hit four 3-point shots to turn the early deficit into a 31-24 halftime lead. He would add another trey in the third quarter to finish with 15 points.
“He’s one of the best shooters in the league,” said Justin Seideman, who finished with a game-high 23 points for Staples, including 15 in the second half. “He’s a great catch-and-shoot shooter. As we were beating their press we were trying to get into the lane and kick to him as much as possible, and he was knocking them down.”
Sussman helped to open up the court, forcing Danbury to extend its defense and creating entranceways to the paint, which Seideman and Sean Pritchett (12 points) exploited.
Devine has always been among the league’s best coaches as a strategist, and he had the Wreckers in a different defensive alignment seemingly on every possession. The result: Danbury scored 32 points in the final 27 minutes and 25 seconds.
“We just tried to mix up the zones a little bit and give them a different look and really we just rebounded the ball better, how we have to every night,” Devine said. “We hit clutch free throws down the stretch.”
Staples reached the bonus at the start of the final quarter and made 11 of 15 foul shots.
Tuesday was hard to get a read on the Hatters, who were without their best player, Marcus Fox, who injured his ankle two games ago, and Titus James, who has yet to play because of a knee injury sustained during football season. Both are expected to return Friday.
Danbury (4-2 over all, 1-1 FCIAC) showed great patience in the early going, working the ball for 25 to 30 seconds on each possession, but needlessly panicked once the Wreckers went ahead.
“I think we just settled for 3s,” Danbury coach Casey Bock said. “They hit some shots and we kind of pressed a little bit instead of working the ball inside. We jacked up too many outside shots.”
Jordan Alleyne finished with 12 points for the Hatters, who along with Trinity Catholic were considered the preseason favorites by most coaches. Tyler Scalzo hit three 3-pointers and ended up with 9 points.
Bock said he has the depth this season to overcome injuries.
“It’s tough but we are a deep team so we have enough players and athletes to go on the road and win,” he said. “Hopefully they will get healthy and be at full strength, but we can’t use that as an excuse.”
The Hatters will be playing in the conference tournament and could indeed compete for a title it fell one win shy of a year ago. The question is do the Wreckers belong in that puzzle and if so where. Tuesday was evidence that it is not a matter of ‘can they’ but ‘will they.’
Seideman said, “We’re going to be in a lot of these games that are close games against good teams, and if we want to be an FCIAC (playoff) team these are the types of games that we need to pull out like we did today.”