By Emery Filmer
STAMFORD – With one minute remaining in the third quarter against Westhill Wednesday, the Stamford High boys basketball team had a 10-point lead . . . and two things to worry about.
“Jeremiah Livingston,” Stamford’s Gianni Carwin said, referring to Westhill’s top player, who was clearly worry No. 1 for the Black Knights. “And they were hungrier, they wanted it more after we beat them twice last year.”
Both factors appeared to be what fueled Westhill’s rally as the Vikings left a packed Kuczo Gym with a 45-42 Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference victory.
Livingston, one of the best guards in the state, finished with a game-high 21 points, and seven of those came in the final minute of the third quarter when the Vikings (4-1, 4-0 FCIAC) cut Stamford’s lead in half.
“We were frustrated and losing our composure,” Livingston said of the first seven minutes of the third quarter when the Knights (4-2, 2-2) outscored the Vikings, 15-2, to turn a 24-21 halftime deficit into a 10-point lead. “We were on the verge of losing. But we attacked more after that.”
Starting in that final minute of the third period, the Vikings went on a 17-4 run to take a 43-40 lead.
“What happened? Jeremiah Livingston happened,” Stamford coach Danny Melzer said. “We knew we had to limit him, and we did an excellent job doing that, especially in the third quarter. But he’s a great player and made great plays.”
After Stamford took a 10-point lead, Livingston scored on a couple of twisting drives to the basket, and after a Stamford miss, drained a 3 in the final seconds to cut the deficit to 36-31.
“In the third quarter we came out like we were losing,” Westhill coach Howard White said. “They came at us in a half-court set, which is what teams are going to do, and it frustrated us. Then, after a timeout late in the third quarter, we got it together and said we were going to fight through this.
“But when you have a player of Jeremiah’s magnitude,” White added, “well, you can’t ask for more.”
Livingston had help in turning this game around. CJ Donaldson added 10 points, Tyrell Alexander had seven rebounds and 6-foot-7 center Breanden Thomas did a good job defensively on Stamford’s 6-8 Kweshon Askew. Askew, one of the top big men in the FCIAC, did manage 13 rebounds and four assists, but had just seven points.
The Vikings finally took the lead on a Donaldson layup midway through the fourth quarter. But the Knights, led by James Gronberg (15 points) and Carwin (14), hung in there. After Alexander made one of two free throws with 14 seconds remaining that gave Westhill a 45-42 lead, the Knights had one last chance to tie.
The play was set up for Carwin, who along with Jay DeVito are the Knights’ best perimeter threats, to work off a screen and take the 3 near the top of the key. But Carwin was well-guarded and took an off-balance shot that missed with five seconds remaining.
“We didn’t execute the play at all,” Melzer said. “And they defended it well.”
“I was supposed to take the shot and I was going to take it,” Carwin added. “I shot it early because we needed time for a rebound and another shot.”
So, the Knights had one last chance when Askew knocked the rebound back out to Carwin at the 3-point stripe. But his buzzer-beater was off target before a sea of purple and yellow-clad Westhill fans flooded the court.
NOTES: Carwin added five rebounds for Stamford while Livingston and Donaldson each had four assists for Westhill. … Westhill committed half as many turnovers (8) as the Knights. Seven of Stamford’s 16 turnovers came in the fourth quarter while the Vikings were turning it over once. In those final eight minutes the Knights, who were without valuable sixth man Rich Benoit, shot 25 percent from the field while the Vikings made 50 percent of their shots. … Led by Askew, the Knights outrebounded Westhill, 29-20, and shot 16 for 40 from the floor compared to 19 for 49 for the Vikings.