Boys basketball: Connolly carries Wilton to 59-56 win over Darien

Senior co-captain Drew Connolly put his team on his back, scoring 13 of the team’s final 15 points and the final seven points of the game, to lead the Wilton High boys basketball team to an exciting 59-56 win over the Darien Blue Wave Tuesday night at the Zeoli Fieldhouse.

The win kept the Warriors' record perfect at 10-0, and snapped a six-game win streak for Darien (7-4).

With two of Wilton’s co-captains, Matt Kronenberg and Jack Williams, out with injuries, Connolly showed the ‘next man up’ mentality and carried the Warriors to victory. Not only did Connolly score 13 points in the fourth quarter, he forced key Blue Wave turnovers down the stretch.

Connolly finished with a game-high 27 points that included two 3-pointers and going nine for 10 from the foul line.

Kronenberg went out in the second quarter with a back injury and Williams went down with a leg injury in the third quarter. Both players hit the floor hard to sustain their injuries and neither was able to return to the court.

“When Jack (Williams) went out he turned to me and said, it’s your game,” said Connolly. “It was tough to lose two of our team leaders on the floor, so I knew I had to step up my game. During one of the breaks, I told my teammates to ride me to the win. I was just the benefactor of a great team effort win. From one to 15, we all play hard and we played a complete game tonight to come away with another win. Our defense came on strong at the end to seal the win for us."

The Warriors opened the game with an 8-0 run. Kyle Shifrin got the first points of the game with bucket off a hustle save on a loose ball by Matt Kronenberg. Threes by Williams and Sean Breslin staked the Warriors to the early lead. Darien got on the board with a bucket with 4:32 left in the first quarter. The Blue Wave got it as close as 11-9 but Wilton closed out the quarter with an 8-2 run to take a 19-11 lead into the second quarter.

Wilton knocked down five 3-pointers in the first quarter and was doing a good job on the defensive boards boxing out Darien’s big front line, limiting second chances.

In the second quarter things flipped the Blue Wave's way as they started the period on an 11-0 run to take a 22-19 lead. The Warriors went cold from three-point land and 6’8” Alex Preston got hot under the basket. Preston scored six consecutive points during the Darien run. Wilton didn’t score until under four minutes left in the period when Williams hit two free throws.

Wilton got the lead back briefly at 25-24 after a Williams’ bucket off a Connolly steal, but Darien led 32-29 at the half.

The Warriors tied the game at 40-40 with 4:09 remaining in the third quarter when Williams picked up a loose ball and put in an underhand layup and was fouled on the play. Williams hit the floor hard and suffered his injury. He was not able to take the foul shot and Nick Kronenberg sank the free throw to give the home team a 41-40 lead. Wilton upped the lead to 44-42 after Connolly hit two free throws with 24.3 second left in the third, but Preston hit a bucket and a free throw for Darien, to give the Wave a 45-44 lead going into the fourth quarter.

A free throw and a basket by Connolly gave the Warriors a 47-46 lead with 5:27 left in the game. Darien moved ahead 52-49 with just over three minutes to play. With 2:58 to play, Connolly hit a bucket and was fouled. He converted the free throw to tie the game at 52-52. The Blue Wave drained two buckets for a four-point lead, 56-52.

The rest of the way was all Connolly. He hit for two and was fouled, hitting the foul shot for another conventional three-point play to pull the Warriors to within one, 56-55.

With 1:18 left on the game clock, Connolly hit two free throws to give Wilton the lead, 57-56. Wilton got the ball back and with the one-point lead, started to freeze the ball, but committed a turnover with 17.9 seconds remaining, giving the Blue Wave a chance for the win.

Wilton got the ball back with 5.8 seconds left after the Warriors forced a jump ball, with the possession arrow pointing in the Wilton direction. Connolly was fouled with 4.6 seconds remaining and knocked down both shots. Wilton purposely fouled Jack Tierney with 0.8 seconds on the clock. Tierney missed the first and a lane violation was called on the second shot, sealing the victory.

“The team played through some adversity and the senior leadership got us the win,” said Wilton head coach Joel Geriak. “The team pulled together and once again our defense came up big in the end with stops to get the win. We came out strong, but Darien started playing more physical in the second quarter and the refs let them play. We got the three’s to fall early, but we were shooting flat footed in the second quarter and were afraid to drive to the basket. We talked about this at halftime, made the adjustments and had a better second half.

He continued, “Being 10-0, the team has to come out and keep their foot on the gas, because everybody will be gunning for us.”

In addition to Connolly’s 27 points, Williams hit for 15 points before leaving midway through the third quarter.

Preston led Darien with 16 points.