Fairfield Warde rallied in the third quarter to take the lead Friday night in an FCIAC boys basketball game against visiting St. Joseph, but the Cadets erased their manageable deficit heading into the fourth quarter to earn an 82-78 victory over the Mustangs.
Warde trailed by 30-26 at the half and opened a nine-point lead before St. Joseph scored the last two baskets of the third quarter to give their rally a start -- and to cut Warde's lead to 53-48 -- heading into the fourth quarter. The Mustangs didn't make the best decisions possible in the fourth quarter, coach Ryan Swaller said, and the Cadets capitalized.
St. Joseph improved to 1-1 and Warde's record dropped to 0-2. Three players on each team reached double figures in points. St. Joseph's Erick Langston had a game-high 25 points and was supported by Jon Dzurenda's 21 points and 19 from sophomore Mike Sulik. Warde sophomore Giacomo Brancato scored a team-high 22 points, and 10th-grader Chris Smaldone added 16 and Nick Cotto had 15 points. Brancato tossed in 26 points against Bridgeport Central on Wednesday.
Warde's quick tempo took over the game in the third quarter, but the Mustangs had trouble settling it down when they had the lead in the fourth quarter and would have been better served by being patient and careful. They weren't.
"In the fourth quarter, we were a little careless. We rushed the ball," Swaller said. "With the lead, we should've taken more time and made them work harder on defense. We got caught up in the running of the game, with the tempo of the game, and not making them tired on defense. A quick time to take shots was not what we needed at that time.
"We've got to work on that," Swaller said.
Warde sprinted to a 12-5 lead midway through the first quarter, but the Mustangs could not maintain that pace and St. Joseph, using its height advantage to win the battle off the boards, got back into it. The Cadets held a 15-12 lead entering the second quarter. Warde fought its way for a 22-21 lead midway through the second quarter, but St. Joseph stole back momentum for an eight-point advantage before the Mustangs answered again to narrow their deficit to four points (30-26) by halftime.
The Cadets' chase in the fourth quarter forged a 60-60 tie not even three minutes into the eight-minute period. Cotto's third and final 3-pointer gave the Mustangs a 63-60 lead, but Langston responded with a basket while getting fouled and a free throw to make it even at 63-63.
Sulik asserted himself with two foul shots before a steal and a layup for a 71-64 St. Joseph's lead with 2:57 left to play. The Cadets led by 79-71 with 34.8 seconds remaining before Smaldone made two baskets, one a 3-pointer, to prolong Warde's comeback bid. Kavon Polk's basket in the lane while being knocked down cut it to 81-78 with four seconds to go. He missed a free throw before he fouled Steve Hashemi, whose foul shot brought the final to 82-78.
"They were prepared tonight," St. Joseph coach Chris Watts said of Warde. "They came out and did what they had to do. They ran up and down the court like it was a track meet. We're going to score, but it's not a good thing to give up almost 80 points. That's not part of our defensive plan. We want to give up 50 points a game. If we play with our defensive principles and play hard, we'll be successful and keep it under 55 points. If we commit tired fouls and come up out of our defensive stance, that's not good."
Swaller removed senior starting guard Mike Pehota early in the game. Pehota, who had surgery on his shoulder in the summer, hurt it in practice on Thursday. His perseverance put him into position to start against St. Joseph. Swaller saw that Pehota was not at 100 percent and guided him to the courtside seats to watch.
"I'm thinking about him playing for the whole season. To have played him (more) tonight wouldn't have been fair to Mike or his teammates," Swaller said.
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ST. JOSEPH (1-1)
Raekwon Reid 1 2-7 5 Joe Dzurenda 9 3-4 21 Erick Langston 9 7-12 25 Mike Sulik 7 5-7 19 Steve Hashemi 2 1-2 5 Jordan Vazzano 3 1-4 7. Totals: 31 19-36 82.
FAIRFIELD WARDE (1-1)
Michael Pehota 0 2-2 2 Nick Cotto 5 2-5 15 Brian Kerrigan 3 1-3 7 Terrance Walden 2 0-0 5 Kavon Polk 2 5-9 9 Giacomo Brancato 9 2-3 22 Brandon Bisack 1 0-0 2 Chris Smaldone 6 2-2 16. Totals: 28 14-25 78.
ST. JOSEPH 15 15 18 34--82
FAIRFIELD WARDE 12 14 27 25--78
3-pointers: SJ--Reid 1; FW--Cotto 3, Brancato 2, Smaldone 2, Walden. Fouled out: FW--Kerrigan, Cotto.