FAIRFIELD — It took 10 seconds for the mindset that makes Brendan McNamara a complete basketball player to short-circuit his instincts.
And because of it, Ridgefield was able to advance to the semifinals of the FCIAC Tournament.
McNamara, on the final possession, got the ball inside to 6-7 center Nick Laudati, whose shot at the buzzer propelled the Tigers to a dramatic 63-61 win over Fairfield Warde.
“I’ll be honest with you when I was coming down I was planning on shooting it, and then I saw Nicky open with a mismatch down low and he was calling for it and I trusted him in the post,” McNamara said. “I just threw it in and he did the rest.”
Ridgefield’s second win over the Mustangs in three days on their home court advanced it to a semifinal meeting Tuesday against Danbury. The Hatters defeated Darien, 59-56, in the second game of the day.
The third-seeded Tigers (15-6) maintained their poise during a frantic finish. Warde’s J.J. Conway made two free throws with 10 seconds left to tie the game at 61-61, completing a comeback from a seven-point deficit just under a minute earlier.
Ridgefield coach Andrew McClellan opted not to call a timeout, but play was stopped as the Mustangs tried to make a player change. The Tigers were unable to get the inbound pass to point guard Zach Esemplare. It came instead to Chris Longo, who got the ball to McNamara. He came down the left side and found Laudati, who banked in a shot with his left hand.
“We weren’t able to get it to Zach, which was our first option, and got it to B, who at 6-5 people assume he’s a post player but he’s a playmaker for us,” McClellan said. “He came down the floor and as most kids do they usually throw up some crazy kind of shot. His skill set and lack of ever being sacred of the moment allowed him to get the ball in to Laudati. At the end of the day I’m really happy with the boys.”
Ridgefield struggled earlier in the season when McNamara was lost with a broken bone in his foot. At 6-5 he is one of the league’s most complete players. He finished with 19 points and demonstrated his versatility when it mattered most.
“We were kind of panicking,” Laudati said of the final play. “Warde was able to tie it up with those free throws. Then we just came down, luckily B-Mac saw the size advantage I had on my guy and got me the ball and I’m just happy it went in. He’s such a great player. B-Mac is probably our best player right now. He’s a great 3-point shooter, such a presence low with offensive and defensive rebounds.”
Longo added 13 points for the Tigers. Joe Newborn had 11.
Warde (15-6) was hot early and had a 10-point lead early in the second quarter. The advantage was still 25-18 with four minutes left in the half before the Tigers went on an 18-0 run to take a 36-25 lead at the break. Longo, Newborn and McNamara each had 3-point shots.
The Mustangs came back with nine unanswered points in the third quarter, with J.J. Conway’s 3-point shot cutting the deficit to 38-37 midway through the third quarter.
Warde never regained the lead, but stayed close and rallied from seven points down with 1:27 remaining. Sean Conway and Jackson Longley made 3-point shots for the Mustangs, who eventually tied the game, setting the stage for Laudati’s heroics.
J.J. Conway scored 16 points, Sean Conway 15 and Longley 14 for Warde.
“A game of runs, a very good team, a team we played twice in three days on their floor,” McClellan said. “We were in a little bit of a panic, we did that earlier in the season, we haven’t done that a lot. So we started doing what we do, get the ball inside, play good defense. There’s no magic formula.”
The seventh-seeded Hatters, behind Javon Hernandez, led by as many as 21 points before No. 2 Darien put on a furious rally, scoring the first 12 points of the final quarter and getting within five with just under two minutes remaining.
But Danbury (14-7) regained its composure to advance.
“I thought we kind of went away from things that were going well in the fourth quarter and give them credit, they made a run at us,” Danbury coach Casey Bock said. “They turned us over a little bit. We got a little careless and started fouling. I though Javon pulled it out for us.”
Hernandez led the Hatters with 21 points. Marcus Fox added 15 and Cameron Snow scored 9.
Darien center Alex Preston keyed the rally, scoring 10 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter. Jack Richter added 14 points.
“We’ve got to focus on playing 32 minutes and if we do that we will be in the game with anybody,” Bock said.