WILTON — Wilton coach Joel Geriak decided late last Thursday night that it was time for a lineup shakeup. His team had just dropped a home game to Bridgeport Central, its second loss in the previous three games, a span where it had given up an average of nearly 80 points.
If the postseason had started tonight the Warriors would have been a game out of a playoff spot, hard to fathom with their personnel.
So Geriak made a risky move. Scott Cunningham, his leading scorer, and Kyle Maatallah, another top outside shooter, started the game on the bench. In their place Geriak decided to trade scoring for stops, using two players who were making their first starts.
“After the Central game I knew I had to make a change,” Geriak said. “I didn’t know what five it would be. I had four in my head.”
Points were harder to come by, but there was a difference on the end of the court Geriak had prioritized. An 11-0 run late in the second quarter gave the Warriors a 29-22 halftime lead, and they were never threatened thereafter in what would become a much-needed 63-50 win over Trumbull.
“That’s why we went back to fundamentals defensively,” Geriak said. “We have not been a good defensive team this year. We scored 63 points and it wasn’t my best offensive unit but it was my best defensive unit, and it made a difference.”
Forced into a role that required more assertiveness looking to shoot, Nick Kronenberg scored 22 points to lead the Warriors.
Kronenberg and his teammates first learned of the changes over the weekend.
“When I saw them my first thought was there were not as many guards as we usually have,” Kronenberg said. “I knew it it was more defensive oriented because the last few games our defense was lacking. Seventy to 80 points is not going to cut it. For a team like us we can’t come out flat and expect to come back late in games. That’s not the way we can play.”
Perimeter play has always been one of Kronenberg’s fortes, he just has had fewer chances before tonight because there are many players with like skill sets.
“When I was handling the ball more I knew I had more responsibility controlling the offense, making sure we were able to get points and not give up points,” Kronenberg said. “When we give up 50 points we are going to win games. We didn’t score as much as we usually do but when we play good defense it doesn’t matter.”
Antonio Brancato added 16 points for the Warriors, who improved to 9-5 over all and 7-4 in the conference. Cunningham offered a spark off the bench with 12 points, 8 in the second half.
Geriak said he was concerned but mostly confident how his players would respond to what was essentially breaking up a partially completed puzzle.
“You don’t know how the team will change, how the chemistry will be, but when it comes to the point of buying into a system they all believe in it.”
The Warriors still find themselves trying to develop an identity with 70 percent of the season completed. Likely — or hopefully — it will be somewhere between how they had been playing with the ball and how they played without it tonight.
“We have a lot of guys who can do great things for this team,” Kronenberg said. “We’re starting to jell more together but every game we have to come out with the same intensity, the same focus. None of these games are easy and each of these games is more crucial if we want to make FCIACs.”
Trumbull also is in a position of trying to discover exactly how good it is. The Eagles came in with 12 wins in 14 games and have easily disposed of teams with no shot at the playoffs. But their best victory has been against Stamford and they lost to Ridgefield, tied for first place in the loss column, by 33 points.
The Eagles made just over one-third of their shots and suffered from inconsistency with their selection.
“That’s not going to make it on the road,” Bray said. “It was probably one of our worst shooting nights of the season. No excuses. You’re on the road, you have to attack the rim and I think we settled too much. We’ve got to get to the basket a little bit more. Credit Wilton. They came out, played tough, made shots, very good at home.”
Timmond Williams finished with 17 points and Chris Brown added 13 for the Eagles.
It would be foolish to dismiss Trumbull based on a loss in one of the toughest gyms in the FCIAC. However, the Eagles, with a young lineup, have the most difficult remaining schedule, all against teams that started the day in sixth place or higher. Next up: Sean Conway and Fairfield Warde at home on Friday.
“Our last six we talked about,” Bray said. “This was our first test. We have to stay tough and regroup. I like this group. We have to settle down. This is the top half of the league and we are going to have to stay positive.”