HAMDEN -- The tallest player on the floor did his usual damage in the paint, coming within three blocks of a triple-double. But it was one of the shortest players on the floor who made a few of the biggest plays late in Wednesday's SCC boys basketball final.
Ray Featherston, Fairfield Prep's 5-foot-7 reserve guard, pulled down a pair of offensive rebounds off missed free throws as Hillhouse chipped away at theJesuits' once-sizable lead in the fourth.
"Being the smallest player on the court, nobody's going to box me out," Featherston said. "I was literally left alone for the rebound. He (a Hillhouse player) went for it, thought he was going to grab it, jumped too early. I saw my opportunity." His opportunity was the Jesuits' gain.
Top-ranked Prep fended off a furious late rally from Hillhouse to claim a 56-52 victory and its first SCC title at Quinnipiac's TD Bank Sports Center.
Center Paschal Chukwu scored 18 points and guardThomas Nolan added 15 to move the Jesuits -- the state's lone remaining unbeaten -- to 23-0. Hillhouse, which defeated the Jesuits in last year's conference and LL state finals, dropped to 18-5.
FAIRFIELD - Fairfield Prep head basketball coach Leo Redgate called Saturday’s first half performance against Notre Dame-Fairfield the best basketball his team has played to date this season. And 16 minutes was really all the Jesuits needed.
Led by an aggressive and stifling defensive effort from the start, Prep jumped out to a 25-8 and cruised to the 83-52 victory over the Lancers to win the Fairfield Holiday Tournament for the second year in a row at Alumni Hall.
“I thought we played better defense tonight than we did the other night,” said Redgate, referring to the Jesuits 109-64 win over Warde on Thursday in the opening round of the tournament. “Defensively I thought we did really well.”
The Jesuits (4-0) took advantage of some early Notre Dame (1-3) mistakes and had no trouble connecting on the offensive end. Prep’s defense held the Lancers to just five field goals in the first half and did a nice job of limiting Notre Dame’s CJ Davidson to seven points on the evening. Jaylen Jennings scored a game-high 21 points for the Lancers, with 11 of those coming in the second half.
“We were very, very, tight to start the game,” Notre Dame head coach Vin Laczkoski said. “And like true great teams they smelled blood and went after us. And give them credit; they did a very, very good job. That’s why they are No. 1 in the state.”
Prep received a balanced effort scoring as 11 players connected with the hoop, led by senior Dave Zielinski’s 18 points who was named the tournament MVP for his efforts on both ends of the floor. Prep had six players score in double figures as the Jesuits led 53-20 at the half.
Notre Dame settled down in the second half, but it was too much of an uphill climb as Prep rotated players in and didn’t let the Lancers outscore them in the final two quarters.
Redgate stressed the progression of his team and improving each game. Prep will have its first big test come Jan. 3 as they host Hillhouse in a rematch of last year’s Class LL state final “Our goal is to keep getting better,” Redgate said.
Tim Butala led Prep with 14 points and nine rebounds, and Paschal Chukwu scored 12, had 16 rebounds and six blocks. The Jesuits finished the year 24-3. "They're the only team we lost to," Prep coach Leo Redgate said. "Over the stretch of four games, they were the better team ... to only lose to one team all season, we can't hang our heads about that."
The Jesuits shot just 30 percent, as Hillhouse limited Prep's standout starting guards, Thomas Nolan, Keith Pettway and Ryan Murphy, to only 13 points on just 4-for-27 shooting. "I don't think we hit an outside shot," Redgate said. "We've been very hot for the past two weeks, and we picked a bad night to go cold." Prep shot shot just 6-for-25 (24 percent) in the first half, and Hillhouse forced the Jesuits into nine first-half turnovers, building a 24-16 halftime advantage. "Give them credit for great perimeter defense," Redgate said. "Hats off to them, they were the better team."
Butala kept Prep in it with eight first-half points, then scored Prep's first two second-half baskets, getting within 26-20 with 6:59 in the third. "Tim's played exceptional," Redgate said. "He's been arguably our most consistent player in the postseason." But after Clark and Chukwu traded baskets, the Academics closed the third with a 12-5 run. The Jesuits missed their final six third-quarter field goal attempts. "We stayed pressuring their guards," Sutton said. "Defense is how we live." Sutton and Hillhouse finished 3-1 against the otherwise-unbeaten Jesuits. The Academics claimed their first state title since 2007 after losing two of the previous three.
HAMDEN -- Fairfield Prep basketball coach Leo Redgate knows his team fought and battled in its third showdown against rival Hillhouse. Redgate just wishes his team could have executed better offensively. The second-seeded Jesuits led by four with 2:58 left, but top-seeded Hillhouse roared back to claim a 53-47 overtime win and the SCC championship on Tuesday in front of 1,649 at TD Bank Sports Center.
"We fought hard, we just didn't play well," Redgate said. "I'm not upset we lost the game. I'm upset how we lost the game. We didn't execute in the half court when we had opportunities."
Thomas Nolan scored a game-high 19 points, 12 of which came after halftime. Paschal Chukwu had eight points, 20 rebounds and 10 blocks, as the Jesuits fell to 21-2 -- their second loss to Hillhouse this year. The Jesuits shot just 31 percent from the field, turning the ball over 26 times. Prep turned the ball over 12 times in the fourth quarter and overtime.
"We only have ourselves to look at for not executing in the half court," Redgate said. "That's my fault ¦ I'm disappointed in myself and the boys for not executing in the half court. We win the game if we do that." Still, Nolan's fourth-quarter 3-pointer with 2:58 to play gave Prep a 39-35 advantage.
The Jesuits chipped away at Hillhouse's lead, cutting it to 19-15 at halftime. Prep opened the third with a 10-1 run -- eight of which came from Nolan -- building its largest lead, 25-20. "(Nolan) doesn't really play like a sophomore," Redgate said of Nolan.
The Academics answered with a 7-0 run, retaking the lead, 27-25. But Prep guard Ryan Murphy answered with a personal 7-0 run, lifting the Jesuits to a 32-27 lead with 6:01 in regulation.
Prep Seniors honor parents at Senior Night
Seniors honored their parents at the home game vs. Foran on February 8 at Alumni Hall. Prep won 72-45.
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Fairfield Prep turns back ND-Fairfield to win Holiday Classic