FAIRFIELD — His team is 8-2 at the midpoint of the season. It has size, speed, depth, athleticism and a number of perimeter threats. So why should Fairfield Warde coach Ryan Swaller sweat the little things?
Tonight the Mustangs knocked off a dangerous Wilton squad, 69-62. Led by sophomore Jordyn Davis, Warde jumped out to a 19-point lead and dominated the boards throughout the contest to move to 5-1 in the FCIAC. Davis had 17 points and 11 rebounds, Brendan McMahon had 13 points, Joey Gublin had 12 rebounds and Jack McKenna pulled down nine boards as Warde outrebounded Wilton, 57-30. Five other Mustangs contributed in different ways.
The little things?
Well, if we must.
It took Wilton all of four minutes to cut that 19-point, second-quarter 38-19 lead to seven. The Mustangs did turn the ball over 17 times. And a 13-point lead (62-49) with just over a minute to play turned into a palm-sweating, five-point advantage (65-60) with 30 seconds remaining. The Mustangs missed 11 of 24 free throws and nine of 12 field goal attempts in the fourth quarter. Those two stretches are usually enough to put some coaches in a rather ornery postgame mood.
“We had a lot of guys step up tonight,” said Swaller, whose team’s two losses were to New Canaan in overtime and Fairfield Ludlowe. “Everybody helped control the boards. Yeah, we’ve let some teams back into games but we wanted to make sure we were in control, and we were. There were high expectations for us coming into the season and we’re now 8-2. We’ve been very successful and I’m very happy.”
The Mustangs did very little wrong in the opening 14 minutes of the game. Before Wilton finished off the half on a 7-0 run — which increased to 12-0 in the first two minutes of the third quarter — Warde looked poised to run the Warriors (4-6, 3-3 FCIAC) out of the building. The domination was in just about every facet of the game but most obviously off the boards, where the Mustangs outrebounded the Warriors, 29-9, in the first half.
“We didn’t attack the rim, didn’t box out and didn’t go after the ball,” said Wilton coach Joel Geriak, whose team lost two out of three games in Florida to start the season. “You can’t do that against Warde because they’re so athletic.”
The Warriors, whose two conferences losses were to New Canaan in overtime and St. Joseph, were missing forward Matt Murphy (ankle), a loss that clearly didn’t help them off the glass.
“We could have used Matt but I’m pleased with the way we fought back,” Geriak said. “The last few games that little extra wasn’t there but it was tonight. Tonight we fought hard to the end.”
After that 38-19 lead became 38-31 early in the third quarter, the Mustangs, led by McKenna, pushed it back to 13, an area where it remained until the final minute.
“We had a big spark off the boards to start but then started turning it over,” Jordyn Davis said. “I think we were too excited being up by 19. But then we started to communicate better and it ended up well.”
Wilton would not go away even as spectators starting walking out of the Warde gym with one minute left. Led by Kyle Hyzy, who had 11 of his game-high 23 points in the final quarter, the Warriors wouldn’t quit. When Hyzy’s 3-point shot swished through the net with 30 seconds remaining it was a 65-60 game.
But two free throws each by Justyn Davis and Jordyn Davis finally sealed it.
“We’ve got to find ways to bring the same type of success we have in the first half to the second half,” Swaller said, acknowledging one of the little things. But the mood didn’t last. “We’re 8-2 and I’m happy.”
Andrew Smith added 10 points and 10 rebounds for Wilton while Parker Woodring had seven of his nine points in the final quarter. Hyzy pulled down seven boards.
Justyn Davis chipped in with seven rebounds and four steals for the Mustangs.