In the three months leading up to the SCC basketball final, one trait often stood above the rest in regards to powerhouse Career.

Defense.

The Panthers delivered one of their finest efforts in that department when it mattered most, shutting down top-seeded Fairfield Prep 81-59 on Wednesday at Quinnipiac's TD Bank Sports Center to win the SCC championship. It was the Panthers' first title since 2012 and third overall.

Prep (21-2) shot only 28 percent in the first half, including 0-for-10 from behind the arc, and never recovered in its bid to repeat.

"None of them came out ready to go," Prep coach Leo Redgate said. "The game was over in the first half."

Third-seeded Career led 37-18 at halftime, and what was billed as a highly anticipated showdown between two of the state's top 10 teams quickly turned into a one-sided affair. The 59 points matched the Jesuits' lowest scoring output of the season and came only 12 days after an 84-71 beatdown of Career at Alumni Hall.

"We just locked in and had everybody come together," said Career guard Tyrell Eaddy, who finished with 10 points. "We rebounded and ran the floor."

The Panthers forced Prep into 15 turnovers, including 10 in the first half, and watched their lead balloon to double-digits after a 14-4 run to open the second quarter. Prep didn't find a way out of its offensive malaise.

"Not hitting shots was definitely a big part of it," Prep guard Tommy Nolan said. "We want to give all the credit to Career; they had a game plan and stuck to it. Their coach did a good job of getting them prepared, and they played a great game."

Nolan shot only 3-for-11 and finished with 13 points, while guard Ryan Foley led the team with 18 points. Rich Kelly, who scored 10, was the only other Jesuit to crack double-figures in points.

Redgate, whose team opens state tournament play next week as Class LL's top seed, put the Jesuits' latest setback in simple terms.

"We just got our butts kicked by a much better team," he said. "We are not a very good team right now."

Much of the Jesuits' struggles had to do with Career's speedy backcourt, which found clear paths to the basket throughout the night. Kevin Smith and Tyreek Perkins, the SCC Player of the Year, scored 13 points apiece.

"The kids were ready to play," Career coach Larry Kelley said. "These kids are quick. This is the fastest team I've ever had. They can change ends on the court.

"Justin Campbell came up big the last three games. He's been playing like a big person inside."

Campbell, a 6-foot-4 senior, led the Panthers with 20 points.

And Career's defense, which has been so steady all season, did the rest. Prep shot a measly 3-for-18 from 3-point range and was the 14th opponent this season to score fewer than 60 points against the Class L contender.

"If they don't win the state title," Redgate said of Career, "I'd be shocked."

dbonjour@ctpost.com; twitter.com/DougBonjour