Although the Greenwich High School boys basketball team was able to cut a 24-point deficit to eight points in a matter of moments, St. Joseph was just too much for the Cardinals to handle during last night’s Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference quarterfinals.
Riding the dominating performance of St. Joe’s Quincy McKnight, the Cadets were able to stop the bleeding midway through the final quarter and exploded down the stretch, beating Big Red, 77-56 at the Fairfield Ludlowe High School gymnasium.
“St. Joe’s is a good team,” Greenwich head coach Bill Brehm said. “We didn’t play with any urgency until we were down. We did the same thing as we did the first time we played them. If we played with urgency right from the tip, I think it’s a different game. Credit them because they forced a lot of turnovers, we didn’t get back a bunch of times. They were a better team.”
Greenwich was led by CJ Byrd, who finished with 11 points. Alex McMurray finished with nine points and Alex Wolf added eight points. Jimmy Djema contributed with five points and Thomas Baietto took down four points.
For St. Joseph, McKnight was a man on a mission from the start, finishing with a game-high 24 points. Jake Pelletier added 16 points and Jonathan Dzurenda netted 12 points. Reid Raekwon added nine points and Eric Langston pitched in with eight points.
“It’s a three-game season for us and we can’t concede any games,” St. Joe’s head coach Chris Watts said. “We haven’t been to this point in three years and we haven’t been to an FCIAC championship game in almost 13 years. We aren’t looking past anybody and know Central is our next opponent. We have to prepare for them. I told my guys to enjoy the win right now, but tomorrow we go back to work.”
With Greenwich down 54-31, Big Red stepped up its game in a big way, scoring the final six points of the third quarter and netting 13 more to start the fourth.
With 1:24 to play in the third, McMurray got the streak started with a layoff off a St. Joe’s turnover. Greenwich’s big men Leonel Hyatt and Wolf each scored an easy layup under the basket to cut the deficit to 54-37 with one quarter remaining.
After the Cardinals netted another two points via free throws, Byrd drained a three-pointer to cut the deficit to 54-42. An offensive rebound and putback got Baietto into the act. Wolf ended Big Red’s 16-0 run by going underneath the basket, drawing attention and getting fouled while making his layup. Hitting the three-point play the old-fashion way, Greenwich was within striking distance, trailing 54-47 with less than six minutes to play.
“We had a nice group in there,” Brehm said. “I don’t think it wasn’t our best defensive team, but they played great defense in that slot, got some shots and forced some turnovers. I thought those guys were doing a great job and they made it happen, so we left them in there to see how far they could go.”
The Cadets built the lead back up to 60-47 with less than five minutes to play, but Greenwich clawed back, as Byrd hit a layup in the paint and McMurray knocked down the baseline three-pointer.Wolf went 1-for-2 from the line and cut the lead to 60-53 with three minutes to play.
However, that’s as close as Greenwich would get, as McKnight took over for St. Joseph. When he wasn’t connecting on nine consecutive free throws, he was draining the running layup or dishing the ball to teammates Steve Hashemi and Dzurenda for the easy layups.
“To have McKnight on the floor and for him to do the things that he does is nice,” Watts said. “I tell him to trust other people because you can’t have three guys running at him and not make that extra pass. Maybe it gets easier for us if he does see the pressure and he gives it up.”
With the loss, Greenwich fell to 11-10 on the season and will wait to find out where they will travel in the upcoming CIAC class LL tournament. The Cadets improved to 20-1 on the season.