HAMDEN -- The tallest player on the floor did his usual damage in the paint, coming within three blocks of a triple-double. But it was one of the shortest players on the floor who made a few of the biggest plays late in Wednesday's SCC boys basketball final.
Ray Featherston, Fairfield Prep's 5-foot-7 reserve guard, pulled down a pair of offensive rebounds off missed free throws as Hillhouse chipped away at the Jesuits' once-sizable lead in the fourth.
"Being the smallest player on the court, nobody's going to box me out," Featherston said. "I was literally left alone for the rebound. He (a Hillhouse player) went for it, thought he was going to grab it, jumped too early. I saw my opportunity."
His opportunity was the Jesuits' gain.
Top-ranked Prep fended off a furious late rally from Hillhouse to claim a 56-52 victory and its first SCC title at Quinnipiac's TD Bank Sports Center.
Center Paschal Chukwu scored 18 points and guard Thomas Nolan added 15 to move the Jesuits -- the state's lone remaining unbeaten -- to 23-0. Hillhouse, which defeated the Jesuits in last year's conference and LL state finals, dropped to 18-5.
Prep led by as many as 13 points in the third quarter, but Hillhouse got within one in the fourth. That's as close as the Academics would get, though, as Featherston pulled down a rebound with 1:26 left off Nolan's missed free throw. The junior called timeout while falling out of bounds.
"Different guys stepped up," Jesuits coach Leo Redgate said. "I think we played very, very well for three quarters."
With 59 seconds left and Prep ahead 53-51, Featherston did the same as Chukwu missed the front end of a one-and-one. The Jesuits maintained possession, took a little more time off the clock and soon returned to the line.
"It just took one of those extra bounces on the rim," Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton said. "When my big guy went up to get it, that extra bounce cost us. An untimely jump."
Hillhouse was also plagued by an untimely drought from the floor early. Unable to score consistently inside against the 7-foot-2 Chukwu (13 rebounds, seven blocks), the Academics also struggled from the perimeter. They shot just 18-for-58 from the floor, including 6-of-28 from beyond the arc.
The Academics, who dropped both its regular-season meetings with Prep, had a chance to take the lead down 53-51 but missed two 3-pointers.
"We dug ourselves a hole so deep from the beginning," Sutton said. "It shouldn't have to come down to the big shot."
Guard Shane Christie led Hillhouse with 20 points, while John Lewis added 11.
After Hillhouse used a 6-0 spurt at the start of the second quarter to tie it 13-13, the Jesuits responded with six straight points to take the lead for good. They led 29-23 at halftime and 47-36 after three quarters.
"We knew Hillhouse was going to go on a run," said Nolan, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. "They're too good of a team, they're too well-coached. They know what to do.
"We knew that it was not going to be a 12-point win."
The Jesuits also returned star guard Ryan Murphy from an ankle injury. Playing in his first game since Jan. 4 -- the Jesuits' first game against Hillhouse this season -- the sophomore scored two points in 14 minutes.
After spoiling Hillhouse's sixth straight SCC finals appearance, the Jesuits will now prepare for the LL state tournament as the No. 1 seed.
"We're very happy with the win," Redgate said. "However, our goal is to be playing great -- win, lose or draw -- at the end of the year."
SCC championship at Quinnipiac University
Troy Walters Jr. 2 2-2 6 Aaron White 0 0-0 0 John Lewis 4 0-0 11 Shane Christie 7 5-11 20 Raiquan Clark 3 2-3 8 Wayne Whyte 0 0-0 0 Joe Kasperzyk 0 1-3 1 Corey Barrett 2 0-0 5 Ellis Goodlow 0 0-0 0 Dontell Glover Jr. 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 10-19 52.
FAIRFIELD PREP (23-0)
Paschal Chukwu 7 4-8 18 Keith Pettway 3 4-9 10 Thomas Nolan 4-8 7-9 15 Dave Zielinski 1 0-0 2 Ryan Foley 3 0-1 7 Ryan Murphy 1 0-0 2 Ray Featherston 1 0-0 2. Totals 20 15-27 56.
HILLHOUSE 7 16 13 16 -- 52
FAIRFIELD PREP 13 16 18 9 -- 56
3-pointers: H -- Lewis 3, Walters Jr., Christie, Barrett. FP -- Foley.