The Wilton High boys basketball team broke open a tie game after one quarter on its way to a convincing win over the Norwalk Bears, 74-53, in the first round of the Division II state playoffs Tuesday night at the Zeoli Fieldhouse.
The Warriors (14-7), who lost their regular-season match early in the year to Norwalk, 63-61, led by nine at the half and as many as 17 in the third quarter.
As Wilton head coach Joel Geriak put it after the win, “It’s both good and bad to face a familiar opponent in the state tournament. You clearly don’t need to go far to scout them and you know the style of game they play, but they are also aware of what to expect from us.”
He continued, “They beat us early in the season when we were still learning about ourselves. The first time we played them we went man-to-man on them on defense. But they have quick guards and they were able to get by their man. This time out we were in a zone defense.”
Wilton, the 13th seed, will now travel to Bristol on Thursday, weather permitting, to face the fourth-seeded Bristol Central Rams.
On Tuesday night, Norwalk jumped out to a 5-0 lead, as the Warriors committed two turnovers and missed its first shot on their first three trips down the floor.
Kyle Hyzy got the Warriors on the board and on the next possession Kyle Maatallah drained a three to tie the game at 5-5. The lead changed hands several times through the quarter, but a Robbie Hermann basket tied the game at 12-12 to end the quarter.
Wilton was up 19-17 midway through the second quarter when Maatallah got hot and scored eight consecutive points, six on two 3-pointers, to grow the Warriors’ lead to 27-1. When Nick Kronenberg banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer, the Warriors’ lead was nine at 30-21 going into halftime.
Wilton opened the third period with an 11-4 run to put the lead at 15, 41-26. The lead grew to 17 points twice in the period, as the Warriors knocked down four 3-pointers in the quarter, two each for Maatallah and Scott Cunningham.
Wilton had 11 threes on the night.
The lead was 54-39 after three quarters.
The Warriors kept their foot on the gas in the final quarter, outscoring the Bears 20-14 for the 74-53 win, which was their biggest lead of the night.
“I saw this team cut a 20-point deficit to under 10 points very quickly in the FCIAC playoffs, so I wasn’t taking any chances,” said Geriak.
The Warriors were led by Maatallah, who finished the game with 20 points, which included five 3-pointers.
“We all know it’s playoff season and its win or go home, so we made sure we came out with focus and intensity to get the win,” said Maatallah. “I was fortunate to get open and my teammates made it easy for me getting me the ball. We played them in the beginning of our season and we were still developing as a team and didn’t get the win, so tonight we came though and we get to move on.
“Joel spends countless hours getting us ready for each opponent and comes up with a game plan for us to win. We just have to go out and execute it. Joel really knows the game of basketball and is one of the smartest coaches in our conference.”
Antonio Brancato added 17 points for Wilton, while Cunningham chipped in with 16 points, including four 3-pointers, and Hyzy had seven points.
Norwalk’s Zyair Sellers led all scorers with 21 points. Joe Benincaso added 11 points, all in the first half.
“Tonight was a fun game for me to coach and I’m pleased we got a win on our court, which could the final home game for the seniors. The team gave me a great effort tonight as the team played as a team from top to bottom. I was able to rotate in eight or nine players and they all came to play,” said Geriak. “The team also remembered some things from the last time we faced them here, which gave them an extra incentive to beat them.”
Norwalk, which was seeded 20th, ended the season at 13-10.