WILTON — Denali Burton is one of the FCIAC’s top all-around players. He can score, rebound, pass, he plays solid defense and can handle the ball. But the Danbury junior is also quite good at something that doesn’t show up in the boxscore.
“I try to provide the spark when the team needs it,” Burton said.
Well, the 6-foot-4 frontcourt star did exactly that when the Hatters needed it most in tonight’s 62-56 victory over Wilton. Burton looked great on the stat sheet with 14 points, 18 rebounds and 5 assists, but after his team saw a seemingly safe 14-point, fourth-quarter lead slip to five, it was time to provide the necessary energy boost.
Wilton (10-6, 8-5 FCIAC) had just finished an impressive 10-1 run to turn a 47-33 deficit into a manageable 48-43 game midway through the fourth quarter, and had a chance to cut the lead to two or three. But a missed Warrior shot suddenly turned into a Hatter fastbreak, and when Danbury’s Jordon Brown caught the outlet pass on the right wing and spotted Burton racing toward the basket, everyone in the fieldhouse knew what was coming next.
Burton’s resounding slam dunk put an end to Wilton’s hot streak and started the Hatters on their 8-0 run that basically put the game away.
“That was a great play,” Burton said. “You could just feel the spark it gave us.”
The play did indeed prove to be the key moment in the game as Wilton never got closer than six the rest of the way.
“Too much athleticism, especially Burton,” Wilton coach Joel Geriak said. “That play really hurt us. He showed why he’s a top player in the FCIAC with all those double-doubles. The kid can jump through the roof.”
Burton did get plenty of help from his teammates. Brown had 9 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter while Cameron Snow made four 3-pointers and finished with 14 points and 6 rebounds. Javon Hernandez added 10 points for Danbury (15-2, 12-2), which broke a 26-26 halftime tie with a strong third-quarter effort.
“In the third quarter we put pressure on them and got some easy baskets,” Danbury coach Casey Bock said. “But then we started taking too many jump shots and turned the ball over and it got close again.”
Until Burton did his thing.
“Denali is a great player and he played very well tonight,” Bock added. “He scored a lot in the post tonight but he also did a great job kicking it out when he needed to.”
Despite the key Burton-sparked, fourth-quarter run that opened the lead back to 13, the Warriors weren’t going to quit. Nick Kronenberg led the Warriors with 19 points but a main reason the Warriors fell into a double-digit hole was that they made just 4 of 23 shots during the second and third periods.
“We pushed the tempo faster than we should have,” Geriak said. “And on the other end we didn’t box out and gave them too many second-chance points.”
Danbury outrebounded Wilton 35-24.
After rebuilding their lead back to 13 with two minutes remaining, the Hatters got a little sloppy late, committing eight of their 14 turnovers in the fourth quarter. But the closest Wilton got was six —the final score — on Scott Cunningham’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
Danbury, which began play one game behind FCIAC co-leaders Ridgefield and Trinity Catholic, kept its top-seed hopes alive. Wilton, on the other hand, took a major hit. The Warriors entered play in a four-way tie with Fairfield Warde, Norwalk and Central for the final three playoff spots, and lose head-to-head tiebreakers to Warde, Norwalk and Central.
“Our backs are up against the wall now,” Geriak said. “We don’t control our destiny, but if we win our last three and finish 11-5 and don’t make it, that’s not a bad year.”
NOTES: Cunningham had 10 points and 8 rebounds for Wilton, which finished 19 for 52 from the floor and committed just eight turnovers. Danbury made 25 of 54 field goal attempts. … The game featured the last two FCIAC runners-up. Wilton has never won the FCIAC championship while Danbury hasn’t won it since 1992.