RIDGEFIELD — Taking grasp of first place in the FCIAC standings tonight was ignited by second-chance points for the Ridgefield boys basketball team.
With their lead cut to four at the start of the fourth quarter, the Tigers rode three straight putbacks by Brenden McNamara to help open up Danbury’s defense, then made five straight 3-point shots for a 19-point advantage that ended up a 50-38 win in a battle between teams unbeaten in league play.
The Tigers (5-2, 4-0 FCIAC) completed a sweep of a difficult three-game stretch and now have a half-game lead for the best record in the league at the quarter mark.
“They came after us a little bit after Brenden’s baskets and that allowed us to play the way we wanted to,” Ridgefield coach Andrew McClellan said.
McNamara finished with a game-high 19 points, giving him 67 in a stretch in which Ridgefield also defeated Stamford and Trinity Catholic, which was picked along with Danbury as a preseason favorite in the league. McNamara made the winning basket in overtime against the Crusaders on Saturday to finish off a comeback from a 12-point deficit.
The Tigers led for the final 28 minutes tonight, but never had a comfort level until the fourth-quarter push, which came after a dreadful offensive first half by both teams. Ridgefield led 17-8 at the break. It equaled that output in the first 6 1/2 minutes of the final period.
“Once we get going and get hot is when we are at our best,” said Chris Knachel, who finished with 5 points but was an integral part of a strong defensive effort. “We just ran our offensive plays, got our shots and we knew eventually they were going to fall.”
Knachel made the first of five three-point shots in a span of two minutes. Alex Price (12 points) had three of them, including a four-point play after he was fouled and landed near the bleachers in front of the Ridgefield student section. James St. Pierre (10 points) had the other shot.
“We played great defense all the way through,” McClellan said. “To hold (Danbury) to 28 in a half would have made me happy, let alone eight. We kept it up in the second half.”
Danbury (6-1, 3-1) came into the game as the only unbeaten team in the conference and ranked sixth in the state poll. But the Hatters never got untracked and made the final score appear closer with a game-ending 7-0 run.
“We didn’t hit shots,” Danbury coach Casey Bock said. “I didn’t think we executed. We didn’t make the extra pass. (Ridgefield) is a well-coached, disciplined team and they have players. We just have to learn from this. Scoring eight points in a half is unacceptable.”
The Tigers have spent the past week building a commodity very few teams in the league have: depth. With starting point guard Luke McGarrity and Ryan Malley sidelined with injuries, players liked Knachel, a sophomore, are getting time they would not have normally received and flourishing.
“James St. Pierre did a really good job handling the pressure today,” McClellan said. “Knachel really stepped up. I call him a glue guy. He guards a good player and is coming into his own.”
Then there is Jackson Mitchell, whose inside presence is becoming invaluable. After helping to hold Trinity star Contavio Dutreil to 8 points, he came back tonight and limited the Hatters’ Denali Burton to 10 points.
“He’s a big guy for us and he is able to get physical,” McClellan said. “He is playing great defense.”
Javon Hernandez finished with 12 points for Danbury while Jordan Brown scored 8 — all in the final period.
The Hatters’ struggles seemed to have no relation to the respect they have been getting by state voters.
“The kids have done a good job not getting caught up in it,” he said. “We have to make sure we learn from this and keep getting better.”
Now it will be the Tigers’ chance to see how they handle prosperity.
“This is a great win for us and now we have three against very good opponents,” Knachel said.