The quality of the games did not improve, but there were plenty of surprises at last night’s FCIAC boys basketball semifinals
Who figured Wilton would get run out of its own gym by Danbury in the opening minutes? The 68-48 win was the equivalent of a first-round knockout. With a partisan crowd comprised of what seemed to be half of the school’s student body?
Memo to Wilton fans: you guys are fantastic, the best in the FCIAC. You create an electric atmosphere both at The Z and every gym when you hit the road. But you can’t chant overrated to an opponent that is up by 20 points on your team and seeded one spot lower. It’s not a good look.
And the third-seeded Hatters certainly aren’t overrated. It is hard to say they are peaking at the right time because they have not slumped, but they have now put two strong performances together and enter tomorrow night’s final as the favorite.
Their opponent, in a bit of the unexpected, will be Ridgefield, which used its usual attributes, delivered on a higher plane, for a 73-66 win over top-seeded Trumbull. The Eagles won the previous meeting last month when Timmond Williams banked in a 30-foot shot at the buzzer to deny the Tigers of a high-profile win.
Williams never got the chance for a reprisal last night — he and Quentar Taylor were on the bench with five fouls — but the Eagles never came close to having the chance after fifth-seeded Ridgefield scored five straight points in just under a minute after its lead had been trimmed from 11 to four with 1:56 left.
We will give this game a B, which is good enough to be the second-highest grade out of the six so far. If the FCIAC took out lack-of-drama insurance for the boys and girls basketball tournaments, it has cause to file a claim.
Hopefully we will get a great final tomorrow before sending all teams out for the joke that is the state playoffs (the top four FCIAC seeds are in three of the five divisions; New Canaan is 2-2 against Division I conference opponents but is in Division IV. Expect many more rants to be forthcoming).
There were a couple themes from last night. In their own gym and with the fan support that I thought would be the decisive factor, Wilton could not make a 3-point shot — just two — missed a number of early layups and struggled from the foul line. It was an altogether horrible shooting experience.
In contrast, Danbury demonstrated it can play a halfcourt game and has the transition attack to withstand the pressure the Warriors hoped it would have more chances to apply. Denali Burton and Javon Hernandez were, well, Burton and Hernandez.
The X factor for Danbury has been center Jah Joyner, a role player for 20 games and an impact player inside for the last four days. Joyner finished with 19 points and combined with Burton to dominate the middle. Wilton did not have enough interior presence to counter, though truth be told it seemed as stunned as everyone else by the early deficit and never recovered.
Danbury now gets the chance to defend its title, but first it will have to get past a wily Ridgefield team that is just two years removed from the championship.
Andrew McClellan-coached teams are reliable for playing strong defense and being fundamentally sound. The Tigers rarely beat themselves. And in James St. Pierre they have a player capable of carrying the offense.
This was pretty much the key to last night’s win, though St. Pierre was held to 23 points, one of his lowest totals of the season. No problem. Just as Joyner stepped up for the Hatters, Chris Knachel did the same for Ridgefield, putting up 20. Only five Tigers scored, a real rarity when you finish with 73 points.
St. Pierre gets little credit for his defense because he is so explosive, but he held Williams to 17 points and just three field goals. Knachel is better noted for his defense and limited Chris Brown to 15.
Every time the Eagles made a run, Ridgefield countered like a wily chess player. There were a few bends but no breaks. And Trumbull’s league season again ended in Wilton.
So what to expect tomorrow? More of the same. Both teams are going to continue with what has worked so far. Can the Hatters contain St. Pierre? Nobody else really has. But they need to keep it to the 25- and not 35-point outburst.
Can the Tigers’ defense slow Danbury? No one has yet, and Hernandez is playing his best ball of the season.
After going 4-0 in the quarterfinals and 0-2 in the semifinals, I am picking Danbury. I think St. Pierre is going to step up because he always does. But the wildcard to me is Joyner. He has given the Hatters a new dynamic and it is a matchup problem I think will ultimately cause problems for Ridgefield.
Danbury 63, Ridgefield 58.