STAMFORD -- The city of Stamford will be very happy never to see Quincy McKnight again.
A month after his two steals paved the way for the St. Joseph boys basketball team to hand Trinity Catholic its lone loss, McKnight carried the Cadets to the finish line Monday night. The junior scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half for a hard-fought 63-61 over Westhill.
McKnight's effort came after he attended his aunt's funeral in the morning.
"I was a little out of it at the start," McKnight said. "It was a long day. I had a good second half. I had to help get the team through it. We had a good team effort. We played well together."
The Cadets (18-1, 16-1 FCIAC), with a win over Fairfield Warde on Wednesday, will earn the top seed in the conference tournament -- a position that has been cruel to them in the past.
Jon Dzurenda finished with a game-high 22 points for the Cadets, mostly on layups when he got behind the defense. Jake Pelletier added 10 points.
The loss was disappointing for the Vikings (15-4, 14-3), who put forth one of their most spirited efforts of the year. Following a 10-0 run, they fell behind St. Joseph after the first quarter 18-7 and seemed on the verge of being run out of the gym.
Instead, they used their defensive pressure and relentless effort on the boards to get back in the game. In a see-saw finish, Raekwon Reid made one of two free throws to give St. Joseph a 61-58 lead with 55 seconds left. The miss came on the second attempt, and McKnight, the king of the vital intangible, grabbed the rebound, which led to Dzurenda being fouled. His two free throws made the score 63-58.
Jeremiah Livingtson, who scored 16 points, hit a 3-point shot -- one of eight by the Vikings -- from up top and then the defense forced a travel violation to get the ball back down by a basket with 23 seconds left.
Guyveson Cassmajor missed a short baseline jumper with six seconds left, and two tip-in attempts rimmed out at the buzzer.
"We can play against any team," said Yveson Cassamajor, one of the Westhill seniors honored before the final home game, who made five 3-point shots and finished with 18 points. "We don't find St. Joseph or Trinity any different. We come out with the same mentality. Playing defense is mandatory.
"It is not an option. That's who we are. That's what Westhill is all about."
C.J. Donaldson finished with 11 points for Westhill, which forced 15 turnovers, while turning the ball over just nine times in the final three quarters after losing it eight times in the opening period.
Though Westhill lost for the third time in four games, what they lose in the standings -- which may prove to be nothing depending on the outcome of their gamet at Ridgefield on Wednesday -- it more than made up for with the psychological boost it should take away.
"I wasn't doubting we could play with them, but the way we came out the last two games we looked unsure," Westhill coach Howard White said. "I think we figured out we are on the same level with everybody. We did a good job on defense most of the time. (McKnight) played a heck of a game. We tried everything we could to slow him down and stop him."
St. Joseph coach Chris Watts came away impressed with the Vikings and both pleased with the way his team kept its composure and relieved with the outcome.
"This game could have gone either way," Watts said. "Their guards handled the pressure. They are a very good team. We knew that. Quincy really stepped up for us. In the second half he looked to impose himself. This is a good win for us."
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ST. JOSEPH 63, WESTHILL 61
ST. JOSEPH (18-1, 16-1 FCIAC)
Jake Pelletier 4 1-1 10; Jon Dzurenda 8 6-6 22; Quincy McKnight 9 2-2 20; Denzel Moscova 0 0-0 0; Judenick Florian 0 2-2 2; Raekwon Reid 3 1-4 7; Erik Langston 1 0-0 2; Steve Hashimi 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 25 12-15 61.
WESTHILL (15-4, 14-3)
Jeremiah Livingston 4 6-8 16; Terrell Middleton 2 1-1 5; C.J. Donaldson 4 2-2 11; Evan Skoparantzos 2 2-2 6; Yveson Cassmajor 6 0-1 15; Guyveson Cassamajor 1 0-0 2; Ariel De La Cruz 2 0-0 4; Jordan Young 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 21 11-14 61.
ST. JOSEPH 18 8 18 19--63
WESTHILL 7 17 15 22--61
3-point shots: SJ--Pelletier; W--Livingston 2, Donaldson, Y. Cassamajor 5.