TRUMBULL -- The FCIAC's best boys basketball rivalry added another memorable chapter to its lore, and St. Joseph ended Trinity Catholic's unbeaten run this season with a pair of improbable comebacks.
The Cadets, who scored five straight points in the final 30 seconds of regulation to force overtime, put up seven unanswered points in the last 27 seconds of the extra period to come away with a thrilling 87-85 home win on Tuesday night.
"We have the biggest hearts in the FCIAC," said St. Joseph guard Jake Pelletier, who finished with a team-high 25 points and played a key role in the rally. "Our hearts are off the charts. We never gave up."
In one of the most heated meetings between the teams, with taunting back and forth, the Crusaders (8-1) took a seemingly safe 85-80 lead when Brandon Wheeler, who scored 28 points, made a pair of free throws with 43 seconds left. It was the 15th and 16th straight foul shots made by Trinity, going back to its opening possession of the second half.
Pelletier came off a screen and hit a 3-point shot with 27 seconds left, then stole the ensuing inbounds pass and was fouled. His two foul shots tied the score at 85-85 with 20 seconds remaining.
Schadrac Casimir, who finished with a game-high 31 points and scored seven straight points for the Crusaders during one stretch in overtime, missed a runner.
St. Joseph hurried downcourt, and Jon Dzurenda, who finished with 24 points, scored on a drive and was fouled with six seconds left. He missed the free throw, hustled to get the rebound but was called for traveling.
Trinity had one final chance, but Casimir's 30-foot runner at the buzzer rimmed out, and the Cadets (8-1) were mobbed by their fans as they emptied from the stands.
"The kids know the rivalry and the kids were able to get motivated for this," said Chris Watts, the long-time assistant in his first season as St. Joseph's head coach. "I'm sure the next time we do this it is going to be another battle."
How impassioned was the contest? Pelletier, who played on state championship football and basketball teams at the school, said, "It was the most emotional win I've ever played in. In any sport. That's hard for me to say."
Trinity, which trailed by seven points following Quincy McKnight's steal and dunk with 4:42 left in regulation, exploded on an 11-0 run in the next two minutes to take a 64-60 lead.
The Crusaders maintained the advantage, and Tremain Fraiser's basket with 43 seconds left put them ahead, 70-65. Fraiser finished with 17 points.
But Dzurenda converted a pass from Raekwon Reid and then McKnight took over, hustling all over the court to come up with two steals. The first led to a layup by Dzurenda, the second ended up with Reid being fouled with 11.9 seconds left. He made one of two shots, Casimir missed a long jumper and the game went into overtime.
"He knew he had to take over," Pelletier said of McKnight, who ended up with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. "He's a captain and he did what he needed to do."
McKnight was not on the court for the end of the game. With Trinity ahead, 75-72, McKnight fouled out with 2:18 left in regulation, but the Crusaders were assessed a technical foul for taunting at the end of the play.
Casimir made two free throws, then Dzurenda answered back with a pair of foul shots. Erick Langston, who finished with nine points, hit two straight inside baskets for the Cadets to position them for the final push.
"We had our opportunities and we couldn't put them away twice, and that's to their credit," Trinity coach Mike Walsh said. "All of our guys played hard. It wasn't for the fact that we didn't get an effort. We got a lot of effort tonight. But we have to learn to channel that effort."
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TRINITY CATHOLIC (8-1, 6-1 FCIAC)
Sean Brown 0 3-4 3; Schadrac Casimir, 8 12-15 31; Tremaine Fraiser 6 2-2 17; Brandon Wheeler 9 10-11 28; Justice Page 0 0-0 0; Danny O'Leary 0 0-0 0; Neno Merritt 3 0-0 6. TOTALS: 26 27-32 85.
ST. JOSEPH (8-1, 6-1)
Jake Pelletier 8 5-5 25; Jon Dzurenda 10 3-5 24; Quincy McKnight 4 2-5 10; Judeneick Florian 0 2-2 2; Raekwon Reid 3 4-8 11; Erick Langston 4 1-1 9; Mike Sulik 2 0-0 4; Steve Hashemi 0 2-2 2. TOTALS: 31 19-28 87.
TRINITY CATHOLIC 14 23 13 20 15--85
ST. JOSEPH 24 15 13 18 17--87
3-point field goals: TC--Casimir 3, Fraiser 3; SJ--Pelletier 4, Dzurenda, Reid.