When Sean Conway walked off the court eight days ago following a win over Staples, it was hard for him not to be aware he had just finished one of the best games of his career.
Fairfield Warde’s star swingman just didn’t know the magnitude of his individual accomplishment: a rare quadruple-double.
“I was pretty shocked when I heard,” Conway said Sunday night. “It’s pretty cool. Ten points, 10 rebounds, but I never thought I’d ever get 10 assists or 10 steals. I was really happy, it was a great effort. We played great defense, my teammates put me in good positions. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
The numbers against Staples — 29 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, 11 steals — were extraordinary. Double-doubles have become de rigueur this season for Conway, the FCIAC’s leading scorer and one of its top rebounders. But on this night, Conway offered a Trae Young-like performance on steroids, demonstrating his completeness as a player.
“Rebounds are guaranteed,” Warde coach Ryan Swaller said. “I know he’s going to give me 10 and 10 every night. He had a pretty good game defensively with steals. The second quarter is when we took over and he probably had seven or eight steals. I knew we made outside shots and he’s usually the one that facilitates outside shots because he’s the one getting double-teamed or triple-teamed. So I knew he had a lot. When they tallied it up they said he had a quadruple-double and I said that’s a hell of a game. I didn’t even think he shot the ball that well but he found other ways to help the team out with finding the open guy, defensively getting in the passing lanes and putting pressure when guys were turning their backs.”
A quarter of the way through the conference season, the Mustangs and Ridgefield are the only remaining schools without a loss in league play. A big reason is the play of Conway, a 6-3 senior who at this point has emerged as the frontrunner for Player of the Year.
How prolific has Conway been? Consider in three wins last week he scored 29 points twice and 27 in a third game — and his scoring average went down, to 32 points a game. I was talking over the weekend with Trinity Catholic’s Mike Walsh, the coach with the longest tenure in the league, and we were unable to remember the last player to average 30 or more points in a season.
“I played well. I credit the coaching staff and my teammates. We knew it would be a tough week,” Conway said. “We had three games and it was going to be a long week, a tough week but that if we played together we could be victorious in all three games, which is what we did.”
The Mustangs have their biggest league game to date on Thursday night at home against Wilton.
Warde, which got off to a strong start last year but saw its season derailed by late turmoil, is flourishing again despite having four new starters around Conway since returning center Malcolm Brune suffered a concussion on the eve of the season. His return is uncertain.
“We lost a lot of guys last year and we have a bunch of new faces,” Conway said. “Me and Malcolm are the only ones who played significant minutes at the varsity level. It just took a little while getting used to each other. It also helped we played very well in the fall league, which is very crucial to get the newer players and know their strengths and weaknesses. We are getting better every day.”
One reason for the Mustangs’ strong play has been guarding their own basket. The average margin of victory has been 14 points.
“I think we’ve played great defense, plus we put in some new sets offensively,” Conway said. “(Swaller) put in this new thing where we try to keep teams from scoring 14 points each quarter. Instead of looking at the whole game we just try to beat teams quarter by quarter and I think that’s been helping us. New sets keep teams off balance.”
Still, no player has been more indispensable to his team than Conway is for the Mustangs.
“If anything he’s gotten better with his skill work, his consistency with shooting and his strength is probably the main thing that has helped himself tremendously,” Swaller said. “Being able to take a couple of bumps and still square up correctly without being off balance and making the shot. Getting to the rim. He’s always been able to finish right and left but take a little more contact and get a foul call. He’s taking close to 10 free throws a game.”
Swaller said Conway made 11 straight shots during one stretch in a win over Norwalk, and early in the year was making over 60 percent of his shots before settling back to between 40 and 50 percent.
“It’s fun to watch because at times he does things and you just sit back and say wow,” Swaller said. “Against Norwalk it wasn’t layups but midrange and pull-ups. At one point I said to my assistants, I know he’s going one on one but he’s not missing. You’ve got to find that balance of you’ve got to let him play and you’ve got to play with your teammates and he does that so well. He doesn’t need to be told. He knows when he’s feeling good he’s going to keep going with it and when he has the opportunity to make that extra pass, he’s going to make it.”
So what has allowed Conway to make the jump from very good to great?
“It comes with confidence and putting extra work in after practice, before practice,” he said. “Obviously the team has been setting me up, but if the ball is going in, the next one feels good and all of a sudden the rim seems a lot bigger.”
Conway is starting to deal with opponents throwing assorted defenses designed to stop him. Maintaining his play to date will be a challenge, one he said he is ready to tackle.
“Just staying confident, using my teammates to help me,” Conway said of what he has to do. “Just hopefully continuing to shoot it well. Attack the rim, get to the foul line, find my open teammates and playing defense, definitely.”
Shaking Out The League
About one-third of the way through the season we are looking at a league of haves and have-nots. Heading into today’s games — there is not one between teams with winning records — Ridgefield and Fairfield Warde are unbeaten in conference play, while seven teams have just one loss.
In contrast, five schools are awaiting their first victory while another has just one win. The middle class consists of just Brien McMahon and Stamford with their 2-2 records.
Based on the returns so far, I expect having packs at the top and bottom of the standings to continue. It appears unlikely there will be a dominant team, though Ridgefield already has wins over Trinity Catholic and Danbury, the two preseason favorites. A few of the schools atop the standings have been consisting on a diet of winless opponents.
The guess is a shakeup is forthcoming
No. 1 Ridgefield (6-2, 5-0) vs. No. 8 Bridgeport Central (5-2, 5-1). With a logjam up top, I’m giving the top spot to the Tigers this week because they have the most quality wins — though almost a bad letdown loss to Ludlowe. I have a feeling the Hilltoppers are going to be making a climb here soon.
No. 2 Fairfield Warde (5-2, 4-0) vs. No. 7 Norwalk (3-1, 4-3). The Mustangs host what looks like one of the few really big games of the year Thursday against Wilton. No one really knows yet what to make of the Bears. We will know more after the Trinity game Thursday.
No. 3 Wilton (5-2, 3-1) vs. No. 6 Trumbull (8-1, 5-1). Yes Trumbull players, I heard you at the Staples girls game Friday night. I’m not down on you, but need to see a few quality wins to offset that 33-point loss to Ridgefield. The Warriors remain a strong buy recommendation.
No. 4 Danbury (7-1, 4-1) vs. No. 5 Trinity Catholic (4-3, 3-1). When was the last time a team ranked as high as sixth in the state scored 8 points in the first half, as the Hatters did last week against Ridgefield? That likely is an aberration. The Crusaders’ lone loss in league play also came to the Tigers after giving up a 12-point second-half lead.