Harding approached Tuesday's boys basketball game against resurgent Fairfield Ludlowe as an opportunity to meet a multitude of needs. The Presidents were within one win of clinching a third straight state playoff berth, but halting a four-game losing skid and improving their fading FCIAC hopes were both more urgent matters.

Thanks to a big second-half effort by point guard TJ Killings, they were able to do all three at home.

Killings stepped up and played closer for the Presidents, scoring 17 points over the final 16 minutes to help fend off Ludlowe, 58-50.

"He's one of the best in the league," said Ludlowe coach John Dailey, whose Falcons had their seven-game win streak snapped. "He's just a terrific player, and he's very fast. He's got good touch around the rim."

Guard Justin Sheffield (six points) sparked Harding off the bench, hitting back-to-back layups during a 10-0 run to close the third quarter. The Presidents headed into the fourth up 42-35 and didn't relinquish the lead.

The win was the first since Jan. 23 for Harding, which evened its record at 8-8 and locked up a spot in the Class L playoffs. Harding was coming off double-digit losses to Trumbull, Norwalk, Westhill and Wilton.

"We were desperate," Harding coach Charles Clemons said. "Our backs were against the wall. To beat a disciplined team like Ludlowe, that says we're right around the corner."

Harding flustered the normally patient Falcons by forcing them out of their grind-it-out style and into a physical track meet. The Falcons, as a result, lost hold of a three-point lead in the third quarter.

"I thought our offense wasn't a problem until maybe a three-minute stretch in the third quarter," Dailey said, "where the game sped up. We kind of played at their speed, which was not really in the game plan.

"We knew we had to be disciplined and get a couple quality shots and move the ball with the pass. We didn't do that at the end of the third quarter."

A putback by guard Matt Doyle (10 points) put Ludlowe up 35-32 in the third, but Harding turned the game in its favor by scoring 10 straight points.

"We pushed the ball a lot this game," said Killings, who led all scorers with 24 points. "We saw that they were on their heels a little bit, so we just tried to push the ball. That's our game.

"We run and gun."

Now the Presidents are hoping to parlay their victory over the red-hot Falcons into a strong finish. The Presidents started Tuesday in 10th place in the FCIAC, a half-game behind a three-team logjam -- Bassick, Staples and Trumbull -- for the final two playoff spots.

"This was a great win for us," Killings said. "We needed it to get off that four-game skid. Now go into Stamford Friday with a head full of steam and confidence in ourselves. We're just trying to make FCIACs."

Ludlowe freshman Cole Prowitt-Smith had all 10 of his points in the first half, and Greg Lawrence finished the game with nine points.

Harding led 18-10 after the first quarter and by many as nine points in the second. Ludlowe closed the first half with a 9-2 run to pull within 30-28.

dbonjour@ctpost.com; twitter.com/DougBonjour

LUDLOWE (11-4)

Owen Mockler 3 1-3 8 Matt Doyle 5 0-0 10 Darren Lee 2 0-0 5 Tom Duffy 0 0-0 0 Gregory Lawrence 4 1-7 9 Tom Berardino 0 0-0 0 Brendan Mockler 0 0-0 0 Mason Rush 2 0-0 4 Cole Prowitt-Smith 2 4-4 10 Chad Peterson 1 0-0 2 Steven Zembruski 0 0-0 0 Frank Lumaj 0 0-0 0 Aidan Kudzy 0 0-0 0 Chris Howell 1 0-0 2. Totals 20 6-14 50.

HARDING (8-8)

TJ Killings 9 5-6 24 Anthony Gadsden 2 2-2 6 Zach Stewart 0 0-0 0 Taisun Phommachanh 1 2-2 4 Okoe Narh 0 0-0 0 Keon Evans 1 0-3 2 Tavari Davis 0 0-0 0 Marquis Davis 2 2-2 6 Eric Moore 0 0-0 0 Calvin Seward 1 0-0 2 Justin Sheffield 3 0-0 6 TJ Pettway 0 3-4 3 Will Figueroa 0 0-0 0 Ramir Johnson 2 0-2 5 Johniel Morales 0 0-0 0. Totals 21 14-21 58.

LUDLOWE 10 18 7 15 -- 50

HARDING 18 12 12 16 -- 58

3-pointers: L -- Prowitt-Smith 2, O. Mockler, Doyle; H -- Killings, Johnson. Fouled out: L -- Peterson; H -- Johnson.