Fairfield Prep, the state's top rated team in boys basketball polls, didn't exactly flirt with defeat Tuesday night in an SCC game against previously undefeated Notre Dame-West Haven. The Jesuits, off a showdown win last Saturday over Hillhouse, were far from crisp and their usual swarming defense wasn't at its best.
But the defense was good enough and the offense supplied what it had to for a 67-52 victory at Fairfield University's Alumni Hall that left the Green Knights at 4-1 overall and the Jesuits at a still-perfect 7-0.
Junior guard Tommy Nolan scored a game-high 20 points, Paschal Chukwu, despite encountering nearly constant double-teaming, added 16 points and Dave Zielinski had 10 points to lead the Jesuits, who were outscored in the fourth quarter by 16-11. Kalane Ham dropped in 14 points to pace the Green Knights, who play host to Prep on Feb. 5. Lonnie Blackwell and Tahj Eaddy each added nine points for Notre Dame.
Prep coach Leo Redgate was not surprised to see a letdown from the Jesuits' 72-62 win over Hillhouse three nights earlier.
"We were lucky to get away with the win," Redgate said. "We had moments when we played our game, but for 70 percent of it we did not play Fairfield Prep basketball. Every time we tried to dribble through two players, something bad happened.
"I expected somewhat of a letdown after the big game against Hillhouse. It showed we can't take any game off, and we can't take any practice off. As coaches, we have to set the bar and demand excellence all the time."
The scoreboard hardly reflected much of an absence of excellence. Prep had built a 14-4 lead after the first quarter and its cushion going into halftime was a comfortable looking 15-point spread at 38-23. The Green Knights' deficit entering the fourth quarter was 56-36.
While there were some sharp feeds from Nolan, Zielinski and Keith Pettway for easy baskets for the Jesuits, there were also an uncustomary number of sloppy passes. A higher number than usual shots by Prep were forced.
And the ordinarily swarming Jesuits' defense sprung some gaps.
"We thought we came out how we wanted to," Notre Dame coach Jason Shea said. "We had some chances. We tried to slow them down, and we tried to hold down Chukwu. But we shot 10 percent from the field in the first quarter. I thought we had some good looks."
For a span of 6:10, starting in the first quarter and ending early in the first minute of the second, Prep held Notre Dame scoreless. For a three-minutes stretch in the third quarter, the Green Knights managed only a 3-pointer by Patrick Doyle.
"We were forced to come out and we forced it more than we wanted to. If we didn't have to do that, then that would have changed the complexion of the game," said Shea, who noted Prep had been averaging 85 points per game.
"Holding them to 65 points, defensively we were there," Shea said. "We had a decent game plan on them. Our effort was great; our execution was good. They have a lot of high-performing players."
Prep played without sophomore guard Ryan Murphy, who injured his ankle against Hillhouse. Redgate said he is likely to miss between three and five weeks of action.
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Fairfield Prep 67, Notre Dame-West Haven 52
NOTRE DAME-WEST HAVEN (4-1)
FAIRFIELD PREP (7-0)
Paschal Chukwu 8 0-0 16 Dave Zielinski 4 0-0 10 Keith Pettway 2 3-4 7 Rich Van de Berge 1 0-0 2 Tommy Nolan 9 0-0 20 Ryan Foley 4 1-1 10 Drew Rolapp 1 0-0 2 Ray Featherston 0 0-0 0 Joe DiGennaro 0 0-0 0 Robert Haskins 0 0-0 0 John Murphy 0 0-0 0 Allen Gibson 0 0-0 0. Totals: 29 4-5 67.
NOTRE DAME 4 19 13 16--52
FAIRFIELD PREP 14 24 18 11--67
3-pointers: ND--Blackwell, Eaddy, Puzone, Ham, Doyle; FP--Zielinski 2, Nolan 2, Foley.