WILTON — For the first half tonight against Fairfield Warde, the Wilton boys basketball team seemed mentally ill-prepared for the kind of game it has been waiting both to share the marquee in and, more importantly, grow accustomed to winning.
The Mustangs jumped out to an 8-0 lead in less than two minutes. Wilton was missing open jumpers, allowing uncontested looks and, worse, getting outhustled to loose balls.
Despite same flashes, the Warriors trailed at the break, 41-31.
“We were a little slow coming out,” Wilton’s Jack Williams said. “I think the butterflies got to us a little bit.”
The team that emerged out of the locker room for the second half looked more like ready-for-prime-time players. With contributions from the deepest roster in coach Joel Geriak’s five years, the Warriors wrested a 50-49 lead by the end of the third quarter and what turned out to be a 34-11 run carried them to a 75-65 win in a battle between the league’s last two remaining undefeated teams.
“Our whole game picked up in the second half,” Williams said. “Offense and defense. We started hitting our 3-pointers.”
Wilton (9-0, 6-0 FCIAC) converted the perimeter shots they had been missing and created easier ones by clogging the passing lanes they had been leaving untended.
“We came out lethargic,” Wilton coach Joel Geriak said. “We let them set up on defense the first couple times, which we were planning not to do. We let them play their game in the first half. In the second half we said keep attacking, trust each other and they did.”
Matt Kronenberg, held to just two points in the first half, led a balanced attack with 16, though he was held without a basket from beyond the arc. Williams added 15 and Kyle Maatallah finished with 13, including 10 in a fourth quarter, when he hit a pair of 3-point shots and provided a spark. Drew Connolly scored 9 points.
Like a true ensemble, each player stepped into the spotlight for short stretches in the last two quarters.
“It comes from playing a lot of kids in the first half, they have energy in the second half and they trust each other,” Geriak said. “We are not a six- or seven-player team. We have eight or nine players when it comes to scoring.”
The loss cost the Mustangs (9-1, 5-1) nothing more than bragging rights and a small drop in the standings in the teams’ first meeting since their memorable FCIAC Tournament quarterfinal last year, which Wilton also won, 92-90, in double overtime.
“Our defense I thought was fantastic the first half and the second half was atrocious,” Warde coach Ryan Swaller said. “No help side. Matt Kronenberg went off and did what he wanted to do and picked us apart. Dictate tempo, dictate where the offense was running.”
Giacomo Brancato scored a game-high 20 points for Warde before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Marcel Parsons added 14 but made just two free throws in the second half after hitting four 3-pointers than got the Mustangs off to the fast start. Sean Conway finished with 13 points and Antonio Brancato had 8.
“We are what we are,” Swaller said. “We are 9-1 after 10 games, sign me up for that in August.”
The game seemed to be somewhat of a revelation for a number of observers who took advantage of a rare Thursday night game to see two teams that play at a constant sprint, a stark contrast from the grinding play that has characterized play throughout most of the league during the first half of the season.
In the end, the Warriors were more dominant in their better half than the Mustangs.
“It means the world to me,” Williams said. “I’ve been dreaming about winning an FCIAC championship my whole life and I think this year is the year. We’ll execute and we’ll play our games and we’ll beat teams.”