TRUMBULL — It had been 34 years since the Trumbull boys basketball team last had a 20-win season. Harold Jensen, part of the Villanova team that defeated Georgetown in perhaps the biggest upset in an NCAA Tournament final, was the Eagles’ star and they defeated New Canaan for the FCIAC title before one of the largest crowds in league history.
Trumbull has not won a championship since, and that 20-win mark will be the biggest keepsake after the Eagles’ season was ended tonight by Fairfield Prep, 76-69, in the second round of the Class LL Tournament.
Trumbull coach Buddy Bray tried to put his best spin on the outcome, but the long look on his face failed the conceal the disappointment on what the Eagles felt was a premature ending and the final game together for six seniors who were part of a strong run the last two winters.
“We had a great season, regular-season FCIAC champs,” Bray said. “Look at the body of work over a 20-game season. I think if you ask anyone, Trumbull was the team. We played together and that’s why we had such a successful year.”
Trumbull (20-4), the No. 6 seed, got off to a slow start and never seemed to gain traction on any of its comeback runs against the Jesuits, now healthy and much better than their No. 22 seed or 13-11 mark. Prep utilized its size advantage, went ahead, 14-6, and after the Eagles went on an 11-0 run quickly responded to regain a lead they would not relinquish.
“We were kind of chasing most of the night,” Bray said. “We made a nice run there and got some momentum but I’m proud of our group. It’s going to be an emotional locker room. These kids have been together for a long time. They made more plays, credit Prep. They’re moving on.”
With the exception of Darien’s Alex Preston, the conference Player of the Year, no team really had a dominant center. A few teams had some height, but that was usually utilized defensively.
“Really all season we didn’t have a big FCIAC, so we kind of tailored our offense to spread the floor, utilized our speed and it just kind of caught up to us tonight on the defensive end with their size,” Bray said. “It was no fault of our kids. They had size and did a nice job feeding it into the post.”
Pat Harding and John Kelly, the Jesuits’ two big men, each scored 22 points. Brian Noone added 15. If not for poor foul shooting the game might not have had some mystery in the final quarter.
Prep led by as many as 16 points in the third quarter, but the Eagles chipped away. They got within 53-45 on Chris Brown’s steal and dunk to end the third quarter.
Trumbull twice got within four points in the fourth quarter, but each time the Jesuits answered. First came a layup by Noone, then a 3-point shot up top by Kelly.
But the Eagles never got close enough to force Prep into a pressured possession down the stretch.
“Our effort was tremendous,” said JJ Pfohl, who scored 16 points in his final game for the Eagles. “They’re very, very big. The big difference was on the glass. We played our butts off. I think this whole year we had a great mindset. All our games were very close wins. We played well in close games, been there before. Sometimes the ball just doesn’t roll your way.”
Johnny McElroy scored 18 points to lead Trumbull. Jack Lynch added 14 and Brown had 10.
“We didn’t adjust to that size and once we got more aggressive on some of the cutters and on the block, I thought we did a much better job, got back into the game,” Bray said. “It’s a tough loss. As far as the effort, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”