BRANFORD -- Notre Dame-West Haven used its customary man-to-man defense against Fairfield Prep in two regular-season losses during the SCC boys basketball season. But on Saturday morning in the conference quarterfinals at Branford High School, Green Knights coach Jason Shea decided to implement a new defensive wrinkle aimed at disrupting the Jesuits' instincts on offense.
The strategy worked -- Notre Dame's 2-3 zone forced Prep's offense out of sync for the most part -- but there were other pivotal phases of play that needed to go well for a team to hand its opponent its first loss of the year. Notre Dame couldn't make open shots late in the game, and Prep held on for a 54-50 victory as the top-seeded Jesuits improved to 21-0 on the season.
Prep, rated No. 1 throughout the season in the statewide polls, advanced to the semifinals on Monday at 7:45 p.m. against No. 4 Wilbur Cross at East Haven High School. The Governors beat No. 5 Guilford 53-47. The Green Knights, who beat Cheshire in a first-round game on Thursday night, dropped to 14-8 and await their pairing for the CIAC Class L state tournament that begins on March 10.
"We had three or four possessions after it was a one-point lead (for Prep)," Shea said. "Our best shooters had the ball, and they had good looks (for their shots), but we could not knock them down. They hit the back of the rim or went in and out. If one of them had gone in, it could have been a different game."
The Jesuits, who owned a 28-25 lead at the half on Thomas Nolan's half-court buzzer-beater, led 51-50 before Ryan Foley, during an apparent Prep effort to protect the lead with a stall, fired home Prep's 10th and final 3-pointer of the game.
A turnaround in the final 86 seconds, when each team had one-and-ones from the foul line, was a key to Prep's win. Alex Puzone of the Green Knights made the first and missed the second free throw, to cut Notre Dame's deficit to 49-48 instead of tying it. Then 11 seconds later, with 75 seconds to play, Keith Pettway made both of his shots for the Jesuits.
"We didn't play really well, except for probably four minutes, all game," Prep coach Leo Redgate said. "When we broke down their 2-3 zone the way we thought we should, we looked terrific. When we didn't, we looked lost."
Nolan, who made five 3-pointers, led Prep with 17 points, all in the first half. Pettway and Foley each added 11 for the Jesuits, who held a 37-28 lead midway through the third quarter. Tahj Eaddy led Notre Dame with a game-high 18 points.
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NOTRE DAME (14-8)
Lonnie Blackwell 3 1-2 8 Tahj Eaddy 5 6-7 18 Alex Puzone 2 2-4 7 Karim Cisse 3 0-2 8 Kameron Matthews 0 0-0 0 Patrick Doyle 3 1-2 9. Totals: 16 10-17 50.
FAIRFIELD PREP (21-0)
NOTRE DAME 10 15 18 7--50
FAIRFIELD PREP 8 20 15 11--54
3-pointers: ND--Eaddy 2, Cisse 2, Doyle 2; FP--Nolan 5, Foley 3, Zielinski 2.