NORWALK — When asked Thursday night what aspect of his team he would most like to see improved as the FCIAC boys basketball season reaches the quarter-pole, Danbury coach Casey Bock was unhesitant.
“Taking care of the basketball,” Bock said.
It was easy to see why after the Hatters improved to 5-0 with a 65-51 win over Norwalk that was made more difficult by their sloppiness playing with a lead.
Danbury jumped out to an early 21-8 advantage and seemed headed for a carefree night. The Bears, a surprising 0-5, to their credit forced the tempo and 23 turnovers. They scored 36 points in the second half after just 15 in the first. And, if not for occasionally rushing shots too quickly in their zeal following steals, there might have been a dramatic ending.
“In the second half they played harder than us,” Bock said. “They turned us over. If we can do a better job with that and play solid halfcourt defense we’ll be fine. We have guys who can score inside and we are athletic enough.”
No team is going to have the personnel to keep up with the Hatters. There is no one go-to guy that can be shut down. That was evident on Thursday, which was an individual tale in three acts. Scott Nesbitt scored 12 of his 14 points in the first 12 minutes to get Danbury out to the big lead. Marcus Fox (19 points) scored 14 of the team’s 20 points during a five minute span for a 44-28 lead with just over three minutes left in the third quarter.
And after the Bears, behind Tyrique Langley (14 points) and Deandre Russell (12 points), used a furious rally to get within 53-47 with 4:48 left, point guard Tyren McCrea carried the team down the stretch, scoring 13 of his game-high 21 points in the fourth quarter.
“We had a loss of focus at times when they started pressing us,” Fox said. “They are an athletic team and we tried to rush the ball up the court. Every time we slowed down we did good things.”
Fox provides Bock with his biggest coaching conundrum. There are few teams that will be able to stop him inside in halfcourt sets, and all things being equal he is probably the Hatters’ surest option to score. But Bock doesn’t want to harness all that athletic ability and slow the tempo, neutralizing one of his best advantages.
“One of our biggest strengths is we are a deep team with multiple guys who can put the ball in the basket and multiple guys who can carry us,” Bock said.
With so many offensive options, the Hatters are a team with good chemistry and no uncontrollable egos. Players are comfortable ceding the spotlight as situations dictate.
Asked how he adjusts when Danbury is relying on its transition game and he gets fewer touches, Fox said, “You definitely pick your spots and if it’s an up and down game you’re not going to get the ball. I know that. I know someone else can score. I just tell them to keep going because we have great scorers.”
Last year the Hatters lost four of their last five regular-season games, barely holding on to the eighth and final spot in the FCIAC Tournament, then giving Westhill a tough time in the quarterfinals.
Danbury is now considered by many the team to beat. It will be interesting to see how it handles teams that play good defense and slow the tempo, like Ridgefield and Ludlowe. Will composure be maintained?
“We’re a work in progress,” Bock said. “We’re trying to play inside-out but one of our strengths is we can play any way. We can slow it down and we can speed it up.”
Bock has good kids in his locker room, and that is another big check in the asset category. The players are embracing their current status.
“We like the challenge,” Fox said. “We like having the target on our back.”