WILTON — It is quickly becoming apparent that the narrowing between the top and bottom teams in FCIAC boys basketball is even more pronounced than expected, the difference akin to the leg room in the middle seat of coach.
Compiling early-season wins will be even more important for positioning, and those away from home take on even greater significance.
Winless in its first three conference games, Staples was on the verge of falling into a deep early hole before taking a leap tonight by playing a strong final period and coming away with a 55-50 victory at Wilton.
“I think it was a great team win,” Wreckers coach Colin Devine said. “I thought we played a great fourth quarter. It’s a tough environment to play so it’s a good win on the road. All the credit to the kids, working hard in practice each and every day. And we are improving each and every day. Hopefully we will keep getting better and be a playoff team when it’s all said and done.”
The Wreckers finished like one tonight, after a terrible third quarter in which the two teams combined to miss 21 of 27 shots and turn the ball over seven times.
Five of the Wreckers’ first six field goals in the fourth were from three-point range. They then made nine of 13 free throws, played smart and committed fewer mistakes.
“A big thing about this game, we hit a lot of foul shots at the end and that fed into our mentality that we were going to win this close game,” said Dylan Ward, who led a balanced attack with 16 points. “We haven’t won a close game all year. It’s nice to get one under our belts against one of our rivals. This environment, it’s hostile.”
The Wreckers’ Ben Feuer, whose hustle all over the court proved an unsung commodity, scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter. Jake Thaw also finished with 10 points.
“We’re still a young team, they’re a young team, it’s still early January so you see that sloppiness like you did in the third quarter,” Devine said. “But we were able to respond in the fourth and get the job done.”
The Wreckers evened their overall record at 4-4.
Led by Nick Kronenberg, the Warriors (5-2, 2-1 FCIAC) opened up an 18-11 lead early in the second quarter. By halftime that had turned into a one-point deficit as they rushed or took ill-advised shots. At times the Warriors played as if they were frantically trying to stay in the game.
“They played very good defense against us, they outhustled us,” Wilton coach Joel Geriak said. “Every 50-50 ball they got. They outplayed us, out-phyiscaled us and the kids saw how teams want to beat us at home. We don’t lose often here. It’s a game we will learn from. Learn from the mistakes we made and correct it.”
Kronenberg finished with 16 points but had just six fourth-quarter foul shots after halftime. Ryan Schriber added 11 points.
The Warriors made just two 3-point shots.
“We didn’t shoot well, took some bad shots,” Geriak said. “A couple kids trying to do too much. It was our first close game on the big stage. They are learning and that’s part of the growing up with the team so far.”
The Warriors have been an upper echelon team in recent years, but few of the current cast played major minutes toward that success.
“There are only two or three kids who have been in that big spot before,” Geriak said. “They’ve seen it and now they are part of it.”
The Wreckers had been competitive in all but one of their losses.
“We played a smart basketball game at the end and that shows how well we are coached and how close we are as a unit,” Ward said. “That was a testament to how well we played at the end. These are the games you have to grind out and win.”