Hot start helps Greenwich hoops top New Canaan, 63-58

The Greenwich Cardinals are still alive in the hunt for CIAC boys basketball tournament berth. But head coach Pat Heaton doesn’t want to talk about that just yet.

“We’ll talk about states when we get to the seventh win,” Heaton said. “Now, we’ll worry about six before we worry about seven.”

The Cardinals took a step in a positive direction on Tuesday night, riding the hot-shooting Conor Harkins to an early lead before holding on for a 63-58 victory over the Rams in New Canaan. The win bumped Greenwich’s record up to 5-10, and it will need to win at least three of its final five games in order to qualify for the playoffs.

“The philosophy right now,” Heaton said, “is you take one at a time.”

On the other side of the coin were the Rams, who saw their playoff chances pushed to the brink with the loss. New Canaan is 3-12 and would need to run the table to qualify for the playoffs.

The Rams fell behind 23-10 in the first quarter and 36-18 at halftime, putting a damper on the senior night festivities.

“It was very hard to watch that for the seniors sake,” head coach Mike Evans said. “States isn’t gone, but we’d have to win out and we all know how hard that would be.”

The bright side for New Canaan was the fight the players showed, battling back from a 20-point deficit and closing the gap to five at the final horn. The Rams outscored the Cards 40-27 during the second half, led by senior co-captain Claude Chandonnet’s nine points and sophomore Tyler Sweeney’s 11 in the last two quarters.

“We don’t give up,” Evans said. “Our kids play hard. It’s a trait of New Canaan kids, which is remarkable. The problem we’ve had is that we go into debt so deep. If we had the kind of effort when we were down, we’d probably win a lot more games. We were down to Norwalk by one at the half. That first half we played against Norwalk — if we played that way against a team like this, you’re up by 20 at the half. We talked about that at halftime — where is that consistent effort and why doesn’t it exist for us?”

The Cardinals’ star of the game, especially in the early going, was Harkins, a sophomore who drained four straight three-point baskets in the first quarter, when he scored 15 of his game-high 24 points.

“We came out and hit two quick sets that we actually just put in yesterday at practice,” Heaton said. “They worked so you always look good when that happens, especially when you have a player who can shoot like Conor. We made the emphasis to get him some shots in the first quarter and he made them. He’s a talented shooter. He did a nice job.”

“It is hard to defend a kid on fire, but you just don’t let him get the ball,” Evans said. “We called timeouts to talk about that, but we just didn’t get it done. So credit to the coach to keep getting the kid open. He’s a good coach, he knows his stuff, and the kid’s a great shooter.”

In addition to Harkin’s 24, Greenwich also had 11 from Alec Oropall, 10 from Kieran Carroll, and six from Griffin Golden.

For New Canaan, Sweeney led the offense with 16 points, James Crovatto added 10, Chandonnet had nine, and Kyle Smith had seven.

Greenwich’s lead was 26-15 when the Cards tacked on what amounted to a five-point play to go up by 16. Oropall hit a jumper and Carroll was fouled away from the ball, earning a trip to the line. He hit the first free throw and missed the second, but Oropall grabbed the rebound and scored on a lay-up to finish the 5-0 run.

New Canaan trailed by 19 in the third quarter when an 8-0 run, sparked by six points from Chandonnet, closed the gap to 11.

At that point, Heaton had a message for his Cardinals.

“I just told them we were winning,” Heaton said. “At times out there, it looked like we were losing. At times, we played not to lose in the second half instead of playing to win. We’ve struggled with that a little bit in the past few weeks, but tonight we made enough plays to win.”

The Rams were down by 14 heading to the fourth quarter but played great defense down the stretch, which allowed them to inch closer. A Sweeney three-pointer made it 58-51 with 1:18 remaining, but Griffin Golden hit one of two free throws and, after a New Canaan miss, Oropall scored on a breakaway to push the lead back to 10, essentially ended the threat.

The Rams finished with a 7-2 run, but it was too little, too late as Greenwich took the win.

Greenwich senior Leonel Hyatt (23) gets set to put up two points during the Cards' 63-58 win over the Rams in New Canaan on Tuesday. (Dave Stewart/Hersam Acorn Newspapers Photo)

Greenwich senior Leonel Hyatt (23) gets set to put up two points during the Cards’ 63-58 win over the Rams in New Canaan on Tuesday. (Dave Stewart/Hersam Acorn Newspapers Photo)

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