STAMFORD — Beware Of Dog.
That was the message coming out of the Stamford High School boys basketball locker room following Wednesday’s 48-37 win over Greenwich, its fourth in the last five games.
On a night when both teams looked like they were feeling the effects of playing twice in three nights, and energy was often an elusive commodity, the Black Knights were infused by Yan Carlos Marte, who scored just six points yet was the star of the game.
Marte held Greenwich star Conor Harkins to just 7 points, and scoreless for the final 12:25. Harkins had few touches, could not get in a flow and that was enough to carry Stamford on an evening it struggled in many phases.
“We stuck The Dog on him,” Stamford coach Danny Melzer said of Marte, nearly shouting as if he was giving a pregame speech and not a postgame summation. “And The Dog ate his (butt) up. Harkins, I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a really good player. I watched Yan guard our kids in practice yesterday and he made the kid quit. He said I don’t want to play anymore. So Harkins had a tough match tonight. He is a dog, he is unbelievable. He changed the entire game, without touching the ball.”
Marte was equally enthused. While most players circle upcoming opponents, Marte highlights their best players. Harkins was next up.
“I wanted it badly,” Marte said. I told him I’m going to be there the whole night long, I’m not going anywhere. I get pumped up. I love playing defense, especially against the best player. I love playing defense.”
Those last three words were offered again for emphasis, but they are telling about why the Black Knights are 11-3 over all and 8-2 in the league play. With reliable scorers a rare commodity, teams need to find other ways to get them over the edge. Marte is a hidden intangible.
“Playing really hard goes a long way, especially in the league this year where teams are so similar in terms of talent level,” Melzer said. “Something has to put us over the edge and so far it has been that we play hard, we play together and we play smart all game long.”
Melzer is treating his team like a near-empty tube of toothpaste, using all his dexterity to get every bit of skill out of it he can. So far it is working.
“We’ve held two playoff caliber teams in the last two games to under 40 points,” Melzer noted. “And that’s by design, that’s who we are. We’re not trying to play in the 70s. That’s not our goal.”
Greenwich coach Pat Heaton was offering the same commentary from the other vantage point in the visiting locker room.
Discussing Harkins’ single-digit production, Heaton said, “We’ve won without him scoring when others have stepped up. They wanted the game under 50, we wanted the game over 50. We figured if it was over 50 we win and if it was under 50 they win. They won the battle that way.”
Stamford played with a moderate lead almost the entire night, but a 10-2 run late in the first half gave the Cardinals a 28-27 advantage. It was the only other time besides the opening basket that they were on top. Not prettily but effectively, the Black Knights closed the game by scoring seven of the final nine points.
“We brought it back, we took the lead for a minute and the fourth quarter, in this league especially, it comes down to who executes better,” Heaton said.
Greenwich is among the team’s most difficult to assess, even this late into the season. It followed a win over Trumbull with a loss to Norwalk. The Cardinals, at 7-5, 5-4, are not going away any time soon. They got 16 points from Kieran Carroll. There is hardly any shame in a road loss at Stamford. They are like many teams, in search of regularity.
“There’s no veteran teams in the league this year,” Heaton said. “Everyone’s trying to find themselves. The teams that are finding the most success are putting things together, finding the right rotations and executing in the end.”
We haven’t even mentioned Jay DeVito’s 26 points. Perhaps because they are a given. Or perhaps it was because on this night he was overshadowed by a teammate who hit just one 3-point shot.
“Like I told Jimmer before, worry about your offense,” said Marte, referring to DeVito by his nickname. “Let me worry about the defense. I don’t care if I don’t score, I get my defense going you are going to score either way.”
Those are the kind of words Melzer loves.
“We need contributions from everybody,” he said. “Maybe it’s not scoring, but it’s rebounding, it’s defending, it’s running our offense.”
And sometime, it’s just letting The Dog loose.