FAIRFIELD — Shots were altered and contested, shooters were unable to get comfortable and relentless pressure caused a series of forced errors to be transitioned into easy baskets.
Fairfield Warde unleashed a stifling defensive effort to start the second half tonight against Fairfield Ludlowe, the first time in a while the rivals met simultaneously occupying such high positions in the standings.
The Mustangs started the third quarter with eight straight points in 72 seconds and the fourth with a 17-0 run. The end result was a decisive 60-36 win by Warde, keeping it a half-game out of first place in the FCIAC with another huge game on Thursday.
‘Defensively I couldn’t ask for anything else,” Warde coach Ryan Swaller said. “We focused on defense the last two days, making sure we knew the personnel well enough, what they want to do well and try to shut that down. They’re a very good team. This is what we can do at times. We can play this good at times and it looks great, but we have other times where we show a little bit more of a backwards step.”
Justyn Davis led a balanced attack with 13 points. Brendan McMahon added 12 points and Jordyn Davis finished with 10, six during the decisive run in the final quarter. The highlight was a twin-fashioned alley-oop dunk, with Justyn creating and Jordyn finishing.
The Falcons did not score in the final quarter until there was 1:35 left, after both teams had emptied their benches and Warde had a 58-31 lead.
Ludlowe (10-3, 6-3 FCIAC) scored just 12 points in the second half, and half came on consecutive 3-point shots by Patrick Kilbride late in the third quarter to close the deficit to 10 points.
“All credit goes to Warde,” said Ludlowe coach John Dailey. “They played great, they were ready to go. They played great defense, they got us off our spots, they took us out of any kind of flow offensively. They took our transition away. The twins are long and limited our dribble-drive. They played great. Hats off to them.”
Kilbride had 13 points and James Bourque nine for the Falcons. Swaller said the gameplan was to wear down Bourque, who handles the ball and sets the team’s tempo.
“James is tough to cover so we started to realize that if we can put pressure on him for 32 minutes eventually he will wear down, and then we rotated guys throughout to try and get that fatigue factor,” Swaller said. “He runs the offense well, he scores when they need to score, he makes a pass to score. I thought we did a better job on him in the second half.”
The Mustangs (11-2, 8-1) were not able to utilize their size in a December loss to Ludlowe in the final of the town holiday tournament. It comes in all flavors: the Davis twins have agility and can close passing lanes, Jack McKenna and Joey Gulbin provide power in the paint and there is depth off the bench.
“I have a number of guys I can rotate in but we have a ton of size,” Swaller said. “Not just height but they’ve got length, physical strength and they are able to control their bodies on drives, they can take a little contact and in the passing lanes they are able to rebound and start fast breaks. It’s a factor. We used it to our advantage. We were able to get some extra possessions because of it.”
The Mustangs, riding a seven-game winning streak, return home on Thursday to face Trinity Catholic, which has won five straight, in what has now become one of the biggest games of the regular season.
Ludlowe will look to regroup.
“I’m not so sure we were ready for the moment, to be honest; we seemed a little overwhelmed, which is surprising because we have a senior heavy team and are experienced,” Dailey said.