WILTON — There will be three schools rooting heavily on Saturday at the FCIAC Tournament quarterfinals for a team to defeat Wilton. It has only been accomplished twice since Jan. 7.
No one is going to want to play the Warriors, who are hosting the semifinals and finals next week, on their home court.
The Warriors are 7-1 at the Zeoli Field House following tonight’s 81-62 win over Stamford.
“I hope that’s true,” Wilton coach Joel Geriak said. “We learned in the past just because you are coming to your place there is no guarantee you are getting there. We saw that. We play well here and the last couple of games we’ve played at a faster tempo and got it going. We are not going to surprise anybody. Teams know we like to go up tempo but we are doing a good job right now.”
The Warriors have scored 171 points in their last two games, and given the slowdown nature of the league this season, they can give anyone seeing them for the first time a form of seasickness.
“We feel real comfortable here,” said Wilton guard Nick Kronenberg, who finished with a game-high 24 points, including four of the team’s nine 3-point shots. “It’s different from other teams in the FCIAC because it is a fieldhouse. It is a little different atmosphere. We have the fan base. It helps us.”
The Warriors (15-4, 12-3 FCIAC) have won 10 of their last 12 games since their lone home loss, against Staples. They could finish the regular-season in a three-way tie with Trumbull and Danbury for the best record, but can jump no higher than the second seed.
The way they are playing right now, the Warriors are no bargain on a neutral court either.
“It took a while. I tried this with the kids last year, trying to teach them how to run the offense and the kids are starting to buy into it,” Geriak said. “I think 90 points (against McMahon) helps the kids believe it. But we’ve been playing up tempo ever since we got back from Florida and we’ve been getting better and better at it every week.”
Stamford (12-7, 9-6) had won five in a row and eight of its last nine and will enter the playoffs as the designated lower seed you least want to see. But the Black Knights were badly outplayed after halftime, especially on the defensive end.
“They beat us in every facet of the game in the second half,” Stamford coach Zach Smith said. “They played well, we didn’t. It got away from us and we could not get back in the game.”
Kyle Hyzy scored 17 points for Wilton and Andrew Smith added 10.
In a sense, Smith ignited the Warriors’ push after the break following a highly entertaining first half in which the teams traded bursts. As expected, the game was played at a rapid pace.
Wilton used a 10-0 run to take an 18-13 lead late in the first quarter. The Black Knights answered with an 11-2 spurt to go up by four.
The score was tied at 38-38 when Smith, from a step ahead of halfcourt, sank a 3-point shot at the buzzer for a 41-38 halftime lead.
It was not quite as disheartening as the two shots at the end of games that turned wins into losses, but the Warriors then erupted for 14 points in just under three minutes to take a 59-44 lead.
Stamford got no closer than nine points the rest of the way.
“We knew they had a lot of fast guards,” Kronenberg said. “Our goal was to slow them down on offense, make sure they don’t get out in transition. Being more careful with handling the ball. Getting the ball inside, driving more because we knew if you drive you’re going to get fouls, you are going to get calls. In the second half we did that more and started to pull away. That’s a testament to our depth also.”
Eleven different players scored for Wilton.
“We’re going a lot deeper on the bench right now, playing 12 or 13 kids depending on the game,” Geriak said. “That’s been our big change right now. This team is playing together and it is fun. As a coach you can put your pieces in there, even the defensive guys are going in and scoring. It’s not just one kid. We have balanced scoring every night.”
Jaden Bell and Danny Simms each scored 13 points for Stamford. Josh Thervil and Jay Jaudon scored 11 each, while Rasheed Constant added 10 points.
“Neither team could guard each other in the first half and in the second half they guarded us and we didn’t guard them,” Smith said. “That was it.”
There is a strong chance the teams could see each other again Saturday afternoon in the first round of the playoffs, a meeting fans would savor more than the coaches.
“We’ve got to figure something out,” Smith said. “You’ve only got one choice. They are a good team and we have to play a lot better than we did tonight.”