The Westhill High School boys basketball team spent most of Saturday afternoon trying to find consistency both maintaining a steady performance and controlling its emotions.

In the end, the Vikings were able to tap their superior talent to end their game at Fairfield Warde with a 9-3 run over the final 21/2 minutes and pull away for a 58-51 victory.

"I didn't feel comfortable about this game and we were kind of flat," Westhill coach Howard White said. "We just got out of our game plan. The key is we played much better defense in the second half."

Though the victory was a grind, the Vikings improved to 9-2 over all and 9-1 in the FCIAC, giving it a half game lead in the battle for the top seed in the conference tournament.

Despite struggling in the first half, not taking full advantage of a stifling defensive effort early in the third quarter, and being assessed two technical fouls due to an absence of poise, Westhill again won a game it likely would have lost in the past.

"At the end I think we just had the urgency to win," said Chris Walter, who finished with a game-high 19 points. Antwaun Boyd and Uriah Watkins added eight points apiece.

It was another frustrating defeat for the Mustangs (4-8, 3-7), who dropped their sixth straight game, half of them by either one or two points.

"We just need to capitalize," said first-year coach Ryan Swaller, whose team needs to split the final eight games to realize its goal of qualifying for the state tournament. "We are much better than our record shows. The rest of the league may not know it, but we know it."

Kadeem Mundle led a balanced attack with 13 points for Warde. Max Garrett added 11 and Michael Wright nine.

But the Mustangs missed their final five shots after earlier using a 7-0 run to forge a 47-47 tie with 3:05 remaining.

Walter answered with a key 3-point shot on the ensuing possession to put the Vikings back in front for good.

"Teams are going to come out and play us," White said. "We are in a four-way tie for first place, so teams are not going to lay down, they are coming to attack us."

After falling behind, 9-4, Warde ended the first quarter with an 11-2 run to take a four-point lead, then added a 9-0 spurt midway through the second quarter on three successive 3-point shots -- the first two by Mundle -- to take a 30-27 halftime lead.

Both teams made 10 field goals. The Vikings did so on 19 shots, eight fewer than Warde, but turned the ball over 13 times.

Westhill used relentless pressure to go back in front, forcing nine turnovers in the first 31/2 minutes of the second half and holding the Mustangs to seven straight missed field goal attempts. Pat Kerrigan made a layup with 2:25 left in the third quarter for his team's first points of the quarter. Still, though the Vikings scored nine straight points to lead, 36-30, they could have had a much larger advantage with smarter play.

"It could have been a lot worse," Swaller said. "We knew the pressure was going to be put on and it did hurt us. It took us out of our rhythm."

Warde came back to tie the game at 36-36, aided by a technical foul on the Vikings' D'Angelo Briscoe.

Walter was assessed the team's second technical, after getting fouled and shoving a Mustang player, with 5:02 left in the game, which accelerated Warde's effort to rally and even the score with three minutes remaining.

"I got elbowed but he didn't do it on purpose," Walter said. "I just have to keep my composure."

That is something the Vikings accomplished down the stretch, and this week they will host surging Trinity Catholic and then St. Joseph, one of the three other teams with just one league loss.

"I've got a good read on the Vikings right now," White said when asked if he thought he would have a better grasp on his team's long-term chances by late Friday night. "I know we are a good team. Next week is not going to dictate our season."

Dave Ruden can be reached at dave.ruden@scni.com. Read is blog at http://blog.ctnews.com/overtime/ and follow him on Twitter at DaveRuden.