With electrifying quickness and acute court savvy, the Fairfield Prep basketball team simply ran around, past and by what will be a very good Shelton team, 107-57, on Monday night in both teams’ opening game as the Southern Connecticut Conference season kicked off.
The defending Class LL state champs and one that many consider at least the state’s third-best team ran a fast-break offense to near perfection and were equally adept on defense as well, cutting off passes and making Gael players take forced and hurried shots.
“In some ways, I didn’t anticipate what was going to happen,” said Shelton coach Brian Gardiner. “But, it’s not something that you wouldn’t expect from a team like that. I thought we could hang tough with them and I think we did for at least a half.”
Using what Gardiner considered a “good defensive effort”, the Gaels, playing on their home court, kept the game in single digits for awhile.
But Prep’s ability to get up and down the court and to get the ball inside to 6-foot-4, junior center Patrick Harding (19 points, 14 rebounds) and its outside, overall guard generalship of senior Rich Kelly, of, ironically, Shelton, was overwhelming. Kelly, whose younger brother, John (a sophomore) chipped in with 16 points, nailed eight of 10 shots from the floor while scoring 24 points and dishing out six of his teams’ 14 assists.
Also adding to the offensive onslaught were Matt Gerics, one of six seniors, and junior Philip Vlandis. Each one had 11 points and junior Robert Haskins scored 10, most coming in the fourth quarter, the Jesuits put six players in double figures.
“We never took this team (Shelton) lightly,” said Prep’s sixth-year coach Leo Redgate, whose teams had reached two finals prior to last year’s 51-50 win over Westhill of Stamford for the title. “Last year, we came out of this game with a two-point win, so we have the ultimate of respect for what Brian is doing here with these kids.
“Overall, I thought we were very unselfish with the basketball tonight. Of course, Rich leads us with his smart court play, but our big guys (Harding, Haskins and the younger Kelly) all played well. We have a good blend of height and speed and, of course, we like to run.”
The Jesuits pushed tempo from the start in taking a 21-14 first-quarter lead, but they struggled some in the second quarter when Shelton made its best run to get back in the contest.
Down 35-21 at the mid-way point of the second quarter, the Gaels, using full-court pressure, went on a 6-2 run behind two baskets from leading scorer Casey Belade (19 for the game) and another from Matt Terrasi off a fast break, trimming Prep’s margin to eight, 37-29.
The attempted rally, however, ended shortly after that as Prep took a 44-29 lead into halftime before a 41-point third quarter totally sealed off any chances the Gaels had of getting back into the game.
“When they hit those two threes (both by Rich Kelly, who had five in the game) at the start of the third quarter, our guys started to press a little too much,” Gardiner said.
Prep hit on 42 of 68 shots from the field on the night for an impressive 61 percent while limiting Shelton to 22 field goals out of 49 attempts (45 per cent). Also hurting Shelton was its ability to hold onto the ball. The Gaels had 21 turnovers and could only force 12 (three in each quarter) out of the Jesuits.
The Jesuits made 17 of 22 free-throw tries and held a one-sided 44-24 edge in rebounding.
Belade was the only Gael to hit double figures. Terrasi and Jeff Stockmal had eight points apiece.
“We need to have a short memory on this one,” Gardiner said. “Now we have to be ready to play Hamden on Wednesday.”
The two teams will meet in Hamden.