The Fairfield Warde boys basketball team's lapses on defense and inability to generate a consistent offense were too much to overcome Tuesday night against Darien.
The Mustangs (1-4) stayed within striking distance of Darien (3-2) throughout the game, but were unable ever to take a lead, losing their FCIAC home game by 70-58.
"I think we took plays off defensively at times," Warde coach Ryan Swaller said. "You can't give up more than 20 points in the first and third quarters and be successful. On offense, I think we're still learning how to work the ball around and trust one another to find open shots, and you saw that tonight. You also have to credit Darien for how we played. They were able to mostly play at the slower pace they wanted, and hit some big shots."
Seniors Matt Staubi, George Phillips and Chima Azionwu led the way for Darien. Staubi, a point guard, commanded the offense and made a number of clutch baskets to finish with 26 points. Phillips scored nine points, and Azionwu, a center, controlled the boards and scored 13 points.
Guards Giacomo Brancato and Christopher Smaldone both had strong games for the Mustangs. Brancato led the team with 19 points, Smaldone added 16.
The Blue Wave jumped out to a 21-12 lead at the end of the first quarter. Darien's fast start was largely due to scoring in the paint and controlling the boards. Meanwhile, Warde struggled to make shots, a shortcoming throughout the game.
The Mustangs played much better in the second quarter and cut the halftime deficit to 31-25. Their defense did a better job of rotating and pressuring the Blue Wave guards, which kept the ball out of the paint.
Warde maintained its momentum at the beginning of the second half, and cut Darien's lead to three with five minutes remaining in the third quarter. This would be the closest the Mustangs got for the remainder of the game, as sloppy offense and lapses on defense allowed the Blue Wave to end the quarter on a 17-8 run, giving them a 53-41 lead. During this run, Darien generated some easy baskets from turnovers and outlet passes.
When the Blue Wave took a 60-43 lead with 5:21 remaining, the game looked all but over. However, the Mustangs had one more run in them. Warde's offense benefited heavily from turnovers and poor shots Darien was forced into by the Mustangs' pressure, and went on an 8-0 run to cut the deficit to 62-57 with just over two minutes remaining. The Blue Wave then displayed some toughness by scoring eight of the game's final nine points.
"I think we have to do a better job of making the extra pass and working the ball around the perimeter so that we can find good shots and our guys can have an easier time of catching and then quickly shooting the ball," Swaller said. "Tonight, we had guys who were getting too deep into the paint, and as a result they were unable to make the extra pass to teammates who were open."
Darien head coach Kyle Marian was pleased with his team's performance.
"I thought we started off very well in the first quarter and were mostly able to sustain that performance throughout the game," Marian said. "Our defense kept Warde out of the paint and forced them into some tough shots."
Warde can quickly rebound from the loss with a win against a tough Greenwich squad Wednesday night.
"We need to come out with the energy we showed at times against Greenwich and then maintain it for the entire game," Swaller said. "We have to continue to work for the extra shot on offense, and maintain ball pressure on defense."
Danny Atkinson is a freelance reporter
Darien 70, Fairfield Warde 58
Chima Azuonwu 6 1-3 13; Matt Staubi 8 9-12 26 Ames Murray 1 2-2 4; Bobby Fitzpatrick 1 1-2 3; George Phillips 6 4-4 17; Alex Preston 2 0-0 4; Hudson Hamill 1 0-0 3. Totals: 25 17-23 70.
FAIRFIELD WARDE (1-4)
Michael Pehota 0 0-0 0; Nick Cotto 0 0-0 0; Brian Kerrigan 2 2-4 6; Terrance Walden 2 0-0 4; Tommy Luckner 1 0-0 2; Kavon Polk 3 2-2 9; Giacomo Brancato 6 5-8 19; Brandon Bisack 0 0-0 0; Chris Smaldone 6 2-3 16. Totals: 20 11-17 58.
3-pointers: D--Staubi, Phillips, Hamill; FW--Brancato 2, Smaldone 2, Polk