Xavier hoped Fairfield would be a bit complacent Thursday night. It didn't happen, as Fairfield Prep excelled on defense to post a 58-43 victory. "We're a defensive team first and foremost," Fairfield Prep coach Leo Redgate said. "People talk about Paschal [Chuwku] because he's 7 feet. And he's a great equalizer. But all our guys can play D."
Fairfield Prep (16-1) also did enough positive things on offense. Tom Nolan paced the Jesuits, No. 3 in The Courant state ratings, with 16 points. Ryan Murphy contributed 15 and Tim Butala 13. Elijah Pemberton scored 14 and James Sullivan 11 for Xavier (11-7).
In the first quarter against Xavier, there were no signs of lethargy or complacency in the Jesuits, after their 57-52 win over Hillhouse. The Jesuits passed the ball around well and had great spacing on the floor. This led to them making three open three-pointers — two by Nolan in the final 31 seconds — to help build a 20-6 advantage.
Defenders Murphy, Nolan and Keith Pettway pressured Xavier's perimeter players. And if a Falcon did beat his man, Chuwku often was there to block the shot or to force the shooter to alter it. Xavier trailed 44-28 at halftime. Nolan had eight points and Murphy seven.
A Nolan 15-foot jumper off a fastbreak widened the advantage to 41-20 with just over four minutes remaining in the third quarter. Xavier then responded with some aggressive defense, too. Pemberton, who had three shots in the game blocked by Chuwku, wasn't deterred. He went hard to the rim and made some shots.
Xavier, which trailed 44-28 after three quarters, got as close as 48-38 on a Tim Boyle follow-up with 4:58 left. Boyle, who on Wednesday signed his football letter of intent with UConn, finished with six points. And though he is 8 inches shorter than Chuwku, he played solid physical defense. Chuwku totaled just eight points and was only 2-for-10 from the foul line.
His offensive shortcomings, though, weren't enough to help the Falcons. That's because he had eight blocks. Fairfield Prep, which should move to No. 1 in The Courant state ratings Monday, tightened its defense the rest of the way to secure this victory. "Myself and the other guards can extend out more and put more heat on the ballhandlers, knowing Paschal is back there," Nolan said.
Xavier coach Mike Kohs said Chuwku was a defensive force inside, but lamented that his team "had its poorest shooting game of the season." "Fairfield Prep is an outstanding team," Kohs said. "They can shoot, defend and have the 7-footer. We had to play an almost perfect game, and we didn't do it. And against them you have to do that because they don't have any weaknesses."
NEW HAVEN — Two things had to happen Tuesday night for Fairfield Prep to have a chance to hand the Hillhouse boys’ basketball team its first loss. First, the Jesuits had to get the ball into 7-foot center Paschal Chuwku. Second, they needed to have a lead heading into the fourth quarter to avoid Hillhouse spreading the ball out. Prep succeeded on both counts, yet Hillhouse still managed to cut a 15-point deficit in the final quarter to one. But the second-ranked Jesuits never gave up the lead and hung on for a 57-52 win over No. 1 Hillhouse at the Floyd Little Athletic Center.
“We’ve played them twice and the jury’s out,” Prep coach Leo Redgate when asked which team is better. “If we play to our strengths, play smart basketball and we don’t panic and we really focus on what we are good at, we will be a tough team to beat.” Chuwku finished with 16 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks as the guards made it a point to get it into the 7-foot junior. And the Jesuits jumped out to a 12-1 lead and never trailed. “Except for a 4-minute spurt, I thought we played terrific,” Redgate said.
But the Academics didn’t go down quietly. Their full-court pressure helped force nine turnovers in the fourth quarter and turn a 15-point deficit at the beginning of the quarter to one. Hillhouse’s Raiquan Clark was fouled on a dunk to make it 52-51 with 2 minutes, 23 seconds left in the game.
But Clark missed the free throw. Then reserve guard Dave Zielinski answered at the other end for Prep, drilling a three-point shot, his second of the game. “I saw the rim and knew I had to take that shot,” Zielinski said. Hillhouse never got any closer.
“(Prep) executed their game plan to perfection, I believe,” Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton said. “This was a perfect example of big-head basketball, meaning, ‘We are Hillhouse we shouldn’t have to play.’ I honestly got the sense from my guys when we came out flat that, ‘We’re Hillhouse. We don’t have to play. We win automatically.’ Today that was proven to be wrong.”
The Academics (15-1) won the first matchup between the Southern Connecticut Conference foes 59-44 on Jan. 15. But they were much worse on offense in the rematch. Prep (15-1) forced them into 3-of-13 shooting in the first quarter and 1 of 18 in the third quarter. Hillhouse was down by 13 (26-13) midway through the second quarter, but was able to cut the deficit down to six (31-25) by halftime after Chuwku picked up his second and third fouls within 8 seconds of each other with 5:36 left in the first half.
After Andre Anderson (game-high 18 points) buried a three-pointer to start the second half, Hillhouse missed its next 19 shots. Prep increased its advantage back to 15 before Anderson finally ended the drought with another three with 6:28 left.
Freshman Ryan Murphy had 16 points for Prep, including eight straight in the third quarter. Tim Butala added 13. “This is a great win. We definitely will see them again in the SCC (tournament) and the LLs (state tournament),” Zielinski said.
Bobby Bynum had 12 points, the only other player in double figures for the Academics. Shane Christie, who had 24 points in the first game against Prep, had just nine Tuesday. Center Chaise Daniels, who had eight points and nine rebounds in the first game, did not have a field goal in this one and finished with just four points. “We take out of this that we can be beaten and it’s not an automatic win every time we step on the court,” Anderson said. Said Sutton: “We know we are not invincible now. When we see them again, and we will, the (result) will be different.”