Time and time again this season, the Fairfield Prep basketball team has come up big against formidable opponents. Tuesday night was no different. On the road in front of a raucous crowd, the Jesuits outclassed a Xavier team that had entered the game playing its best basketball of the season, winning by 78-63.
The Prep offense was extremely effective in the paint and on the perimeter. Seven-footer Paschal Chukwu dominated inside against the Falcons' small front line, finishing with 20 points. Chukwu's presence helped create driving lanes for Keith Pettway, who made a couple of dazzling baskets on his way to 21 points.
When the Jesuits were not controlling the paint, they were scoring from the perimeter. By rebounding and passing well, Prep found open looks and took advantage of them. Its ability to score from anywhere left the Xavier defense tired and overmatched.
"Our offense did a good job of adapting to what the Xavier defense was trying to do," Jesuits head coach Leo Redgate said. "We showed that if opponents want to take away the post, we can kick it out for wide open threes, or if they try to shut down (guard) Tommy Nolan, Keith is capable of stepping up. Our team understands how to utilize all our offensive weapons."
With the victory, top-ranked Prep is now 17-0 on the season and 8-0 in the SCC Quinnipiac Division. Xavier fell to 12-5 and 7-2 in the Quinnipiac.
After the Falcons took a 13-12 lead with 1:29 remaining in the first quarter, the Jesuits took command of the game with a 26-5 run. During this stretch they showcased their offensive depth, as a number of different players made big shots. The Jesuits defense was instrumental to the run, as its ability to force poor shots and turnovers left Xavier unable to get back on defense and deny easy baskets.
"I think our defense played better than it has been," Redgate said. "Our goal is to get better defensively every single game, which involves us taking more intelligent chances."
After the Falcons ended the second with a spurt to make the halftime score 44-28, it looked like they might be getting some momentum back. However, Prep squashed any hopes of a comeback by pulling off a 15-3 run. Xavier dig not get the deficit under 15 points in the fourth quarter.
Falcons head coach Michael Kohs was blunt when asked how his team could rebound from this tough loss.
"We just have to put this game behind us," he said. "There's not much else you can do. We'll practice hard tomorrow and get ready to face a tough Hand team on Friday, and that's it. Hopefully we'll get another chance to play Prep down the line."
Danny Atkinson is a freelance reporter
Fairfield Prep 78, Xavier 63
FAIRFIELD PREP (17-0, 9-0)
Paschal Chukwu 8 4-5 20 Dave Zielinski 5 0-0 14 Keith Pettway 8 5-7 21 Richard Van de Berghe 1 0-0 2 Tommy Nolan 4 0-0 9 Ray Featherston 3 0-0 8 Joe DiGennaro 0 0-0 0 Drew Rolapp 0 0-0 0 John Murphy 0 0-0 0 Tate Duran 0 0-0 0 Matthew Gerics 0 0-0 0 Pat Harding 2 0-0 4. Totals: 31 9-12 78.
XAVIER (12-5, 7-2)
Elijah Pemberton 7 3-7 18 Tom Jackson 8 2-4 20 Brandon McPherson 2 5-5 11 Kalb Lutton 0 2-2 2 Alex White 1 0-0 2 Joe McCormick 2 0-0 6 John Habeaski 1 0-0 2 Karl Sturm 1 0-0 2 Kahleb Downing 0 0-0 0 Dan Draffen 0 0-0 0 Derrick Ward 0 0-0 0 Tyler Williams 0 0-0 0 Jeff Place 0 0-0 0. Totals: 22 12-18 63.
FAIRFIELD PREP 19 25 17 17--78
XAVIER 13 15 8 27--63
3-pointers: FP--Zielinski 4, Featherston 2, Nolan; X--Jackson 2, McPherson 2, McCormick 2, Pemberton.