Although Shelton High’s defense was able to hold Greenwich High to 22 first-half points in their Class LL boys basketball playoff opener, the Cardinals were too much in the second half.
Big Red opened up a 25-point lead over the final 16 minutes and cruised to a 49-40 victory last Tuesday night in the GHS gym.
“We don’t tend to give up,” Gaels’ coach Brian Gardiner said. “They kept on battling and I was happy for the seniors that were on the floor. Defensively, we did about as good as we could have. We played pretty solid defense, for the most part, for the whole season and they did what I asked for them to do defensively tonight as well. We wanted to hold them to the 40s and we did that.”
For the Gaels, senior Michael Davis finished with 13 points, while fellow senior Patrick Murphy added 11 points. Senior Christian Federici chipped in eight points.
For Greenwich, this was its first game back since the heartbreaking FCIAC championship loss to Bridgeport Central. Greenwich coach Bill Brehm admitted that he was concerned with how his team would come out after that lengthy break.
“I thought we came out with some intensity,” he said. “Obviously it’s always good to get a ‘W’ after an ‘L’ and this is the first step towards the (Mohegan Sun) and we got four more to go. Obviously you don’t know how they are going to react after a loss, especially an emotional one, but I think we did just fine.”
Overall, Big Red was led by senior CJ Byrd, who finished with a game-high 20 points. Fellow senior Alex Wolf finished with six points, while junior Griffin Golden added seven in the winning effort.
Although Greenwich had the lead at the end of the first quarter, 12-8, it didn’t come easy. Shelton took a 5-0 lead on Big Red, as Murphy hit a floater in the lane to start the contest and drained a long 3-pointer a minute later. In fact, Murphy scored all eight points for the Gaels in the quarter.
“He’s an all-league player,” Gardiner said. “It’s hard for him some times because everybody is focusing on him. He got us going like I asked him to and I wish he could have made a few more. He played really well.”
Although it was only a 10-point contest at the break, Greenwich pulled away in the third quarter.
After Davis got the steal and layup to cut the Greenwich lead to 22-14 to start the third, Big Red wouldn’t be denied. After Leonel Hyatt went 1-for-2 from the line, Golden hit the lone 3-pointer for Greenwich in the game to make the score 26-14 with 5:18 left. Again, Shelton’s Murphy sank the three ball to cut the lead to nine, but Greenwich answered with a Golden jumper and got the lead back to 30-17.
From there it was all Greenwich, as the Cardinals went on a 12-0 run to close out the third.
After Wolf grabbed the rebound and scored the putback, Tommy Povinelli got back-to-back layups off steals and Jonathan Palmer got into the act with a steal and layup of his own to make the score 38-19.
“Scouting them, I thought we could pressure them a little bit,” Brehm said. “I didn’t want to do that from the start. I wanted to get the half-court defense and man-to-man. We turned up the pressure a little bit in the third quarter and it definitely helped us build the lead.”
After two missed free throws by Shelton, Byrd scored the next two buckets while charging to the net and made the score 42-19 at the end of the third.
“Their defense is strong,” Gardiner said. “I watched them play live a couple of times and knew they mixed things up. We knew the three-quarter court, 1-3-1 was going to be tough. We couldn’t simulate that in practice. We worked on it, but the JVs can’t simulate that. It gave us trouble and that’s when they separated from us.”
“Shelton played really hard and we held them to 12 points in the first half, but they held us to 22. Hats off to them because they had a good game plan and held the ball offensively in a good way. They started to hit threes.
“However in the second half our pressure got to them. CJ (Byrd) took over offensively and we built a nice lead. In the fourth quarter I guess we looked at the scoreboard and stopped playing defense for some reason.”
With the win, Greenwich improved to 21-3 on the season, while Shelton ended its season with a 9-13 mark.