FAIRFIELD — After leading the offense for most of the afternoon, it was Nick Kronenberg’s big defensive play at the end of overtime that completed a stunning comeback and kept second-seeded Wilton from early elimination in the FCIAC Tournament.
Kronenberg made a steal on Jeff Seganos as Fairfield Warde was setting up a decisive play with the score tied. Kronenberg missed the layup, but with two defenders on him Reilly Bingaman was all alone for a putback with 2.9 seconds left to finish a 7-0 run in the final minute of overtime to give the Warriors a 79-77 win.
Warde’s Brendan McMahon missed a long 3-point shot at the buzzer.
“Don’t foul, try to go for a steal, try and trap them and get a turnover and give our offense a chance,” Kronenberg said of the penultimate play. “When I got the steal I realized there was not that much time left, maybe five or 10 seconds left. If I get the layup it’s the end of the game. All I was thinking is just go up strong, don’t fade away. At least get a foul. Luckily my teammates were there to clean up the boards.”
Warde, the seventh seed, tried to run down the final 40 seconds to get the last shot, a strategy also attempted at the end of regulation, which resulted in a miss by Matt Becker.
“Krony makes the big play and gets a steal,” Wilton coach Joel Geriak said. “We were anticipating what they did earlier with that triangle delay. The kids were anticipating jumping it. I think that’s why he got the steal.”
Wilton advanced to Tuesday’s semifinals, which will be played on its home court. The Warriors will face No. 3 Danbury, a 62-44 winner over Stamford in this afternoon’s first game.
Wilton and Warde offered an instant classic, a game that will be difficult to surpass during the rest of the tournament. The pace as expected was fast and there were quick momentum shifts. Each team lost a late lead, in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Warde (13-8), the seventh seed, scored the first six points of overtime as Wilton missed three straight shots.
Ryan Biberon converted a pass from Kronenberg for a layup, was fouled and finished a three-point play to make the score 75-72 with 1:11 left.
After Warde’s Matt Houghton made two foul shots, Kyle Hyzy hit a 3 to narrow the deficit to 77-75 with 56 seconds left.
The Mustangs turned the ball over and Zayvion Eusebe tied the score on a layup with 40 seconds left.
Warde attempted to again play for a final shot, calling a timeout with 20.9 seconds left.
“Hyzy hit a huge 3 and then make the young kid beat us and not 11 or 5,” Geriak said, referring to McMahon, then Houghton and Becker. “If it went in you lose but you’re not going to let them beat you.”
Becker and Houghton were spectacular, scoring 30 and 28 points, respectively. They combined for 11 of the team’s 12 3-point shots.
Wilton (17-4), which won by 17 points in the teams’ previous meeting, was led by Kronenberg’s 21 points.
“I just knew the guys need a leader and I have to stay composed and not turn the ball over, still run the offense. Get the job done,” Kronenberg said.
Hyzy added 13 points, Eusebe 10 and Ryan Biberon nine for Wilton.
The Warriors had a six-point lead late in regulation, but Houghton and Becker scored nine straight points to give Warde a 68-65 advantage with 1:17 left. Kronenberg ended up trying the game on a runner with 53 seconds remaining.
” I give Warde credit. They played their butts off tonight,” Geriak said. “They gave everything and Becker’s a hell of a player. From when I saw him early in the year to now, he played phenomenal. He did a great job. We tried to contain Houghton as well but he can shoot.”
In today’s opener, Danbury (15-6) used an 11-0 run late in the first half to take a 26-17 lead and carried it the rest of the game.
The Hatters capitalized on their size edge, with Denali Burton and Jah Joyner scoring inside, often on second- and third-chance opportunities.
“We had an advantage. The first time we played them they did a good job of taking away Denali,” Danbury coach Casey Bock said. “We did a better job of getting him the ball and he good a good job of getting second shots. Jah played very well today. That’s how we need him to play the rest of the way. Usually we can count on him to defend and rebound but for him to put the ball in the basket and hit his free throws is big for us.”
Burton finished with 16 points and Joyner added 13.
Hernandez led Danbury with 24 points, with 13 coming from the foul line. He scored nine in the final period, on just one field goal.
“Stamford has four good guards but we knew our size with Danali and Jah, we were going to have to look low and go inside-out,” Hernandez said. “We just tried to feed down low and get the easy buckets.”
Stamford (13-8) won the teams’ regular-season meeting.
Josh Thervil led the sixth-seeded Black Knights with 14 points. Rasheed Constant added 12.
Hernandez said having a lead for most of the game took some of the pressure off Danbury.
“It made it a lot easier and took the stress off and we could focus on our defense and we got turnovers and that led to baskets and then got to the foul line and made our shots,” Hernandez said.