FAIRFIELD — Trinity Catholic came away with its biggest win of the season tonight, twice having to show its mettle after poor decisions in the final seconds almost made it the most heartbreaking loss.
Dimitry Moise scored 14 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, making eight of nine foul shots, to lead the Crusaders to a 71-68 win at Fairfield Warde, their eighth in a row and 11 in the past 12 games.
But the Crusaders had to hold off two comebacks, one partially of their own creation.
Moise made two free throws with 12.7 seconds left for a seemingly safe 71-63 lead. The Mustangs’ Matt Becker was fouled and made both free throws. Becker then stole the inbounds pass, hit a 3-point shot and was fouled. He missed the foul shot, but teammate Sean Conway grabbed the rebound and called a timeout with 2.6 seconds left and the score 71-68.
Trinity’s Contavio Dutreil deflected Becker’s inbounds pass and the ball rolled downcourt as time expired.
“Down the stretch we can’t make mistakes like that,” Trinity coach Mike Walsh said. “You can’t foul a great shooter like Becker or Conway on a 3-point shot. Listen, it’s part of the learning experience.”
Dutreil finished with 17 points and Stephon McGill had 16 for the Crusaders (11-3, 10-1), who own the top conference record, at least for a night, depending on how Ridgefield and Danbury, who are a half game behind, fare tomorrow.
“We’re very happy to come out of here with a win because that’s a very good team,” Walsh said.
The game featured the two players widely considered the best in the league: Dutreil and Conway, the Mustangs’ versatile leader, who came in averaging 31 points. Though he struggled with his shooting in the first half, he finished with 28 points and was responsible for Warde overcoming a deficit of as many as 14 points in the first half.
Conway’s 3-point shot to end the third quarter cut the lead to 46-43, and Matt Houghton, who scored all 9 of his points on second half 3-point shots, hit one with 4:01 remaining to put the Mustangs ahead, 54-52. It was their first lead since 11-10, which was followed by a 14-0 Trinity run.
The Crusaders responded to Houghton’s shot with nine straight points. Then they held on.
“We have to learn how to handle end of game situations a lot better,” Walsh said. “I thought we played really well in the first 12 minutes and got us the lead and then I thought when they came back at us…this is the kind of test we need. They had the two-point lead. We were able not to panic and go on that run. It wasn’t like I called any great plays, they just executed on offense and stepped up on defense.”
Becker finished with 12 points and Dan Fitzpatrick scored all 7 of his points during the Mustangs’ third-quarter rally.
“I felt like we played catch up all night,” Warde coach Ryan Swaller said. “Right from the get go. Obviously we weren’t scoring from the outside early on and then we started to hit some shots. As we hit some shots it started to open the lanes. We had a lot of opportunities getting to the rim.”
The Mustangs (9-5, 8-2) lost to a playoff contender for the second time in three games, including Friday’s game at Danbury.
They often feed off their outside shooting and were cold in the first half. They got open looks but also took the first opportunity available.
Asked if he was bothered by the shot selection, Swaller said, “Some yes and some no. Obviously within the flow of the game those shots can be good shots when you’re making them, if not you need to get the ball moving a little bit more to make the defense work. We finally got it moving in the third quarter to get open looks and made shots.”
Walsh also thought his offense could have executed better.
“I thought they did a pretty good job on Stephon but he made some key baskets, especially when they got ahead he made some key layups,” Walsh said. “At times we get caught up in trying to dump down to Contavio and I don’t think that’s the way we should play all the time. I think we have to work out of it and get guys driving to the basket and kick out of it. We’re a work in progress.”
The game was played with the intensity that has been evident in recent weeks as the league’s top teams finally face off.
It also marked the return of Warde center Malcolm Brune, who had been out with a concussion sustained in then preseason.
“We could have gone away and stayed down, they could have easily beat us up,” Swaller said. “Even down, we got a chance to tie it up. We had that tipped pass. I’ll take it.”