Boys basketball: Wilton clinches FCIAC playoff berth

The Wilton boys basketball team came out strong, but had to weather a fourth-quarter run by the Stamford Black knights on its way to a 67-56 win Monday night at the Zeoli Fieldhouse.

With Monday night’s triumph, the Warriors clinched a berth in the upcoming FCIAC playoffs. With three conference games remaining the Warriors’ conference record stands at 10-3 (13-3 overall), currently holding down the second seed. It is the fifth consecutive year under head coach Joel Geriak that Wilton has made the FCIAC playoffs.

“It’s great to check off another goal for our season with qualifying for the FCIAC playoffs, but we know they’re going to have to play a complete game of basketball the rest of the way,” said Geriak. “We stopped playing basketball to start the fourth quarter. I guess we got overconfident that the win was in the bag and we stopped playing. You can’t do that against any team no matter what their record is or the score after three quarters. We must play until the final buzzer goes off.”

Geriak added, “We played poor on defense, didn’t communicate well as a group, and missed several easy layups and foul shots. We need to fix these things if we want to end the season on a high note.”

Two early baskets by Stamford had the Knights up 5-0 before the Warriors got on the board on a bucket by Sean Breslin. Two free throws by Drew Connolly tied the game at 7-7 with 4:57 to go in the opening quarter and when Breslin drained a 3-pointer from the corner just 20 seconds later Wilton had its first lead of the game at 10-7.

Wilton would hold the lead for the rest of the game, and led  22-13 after one quarter.

The key to the first quarter was Wilton’s ability to capitalize on Stamford turnovers, forced by the Warriors pressing the ball, while Stamford couldn’t convert Wilton turnovers into points.

The Warriors finished the first quarter on an 8-0 run, with all the points courtesy of Kyle Maatallah, who capped off the run with a 3-pointer, assisted by Connolly, who drove the lane and kicked the ball out to Maatallah for the bucket. Breslin also had eight first-quarter points.

Connolly drove to the hoop for a bucket off a long bounce pass from Scott Cunningham to start the second quarter and give the home team its first double-digit lead. The Warriors’ scoring pace slowed in the period, but the Black Knight got no closer than seven points (twice) and the Warriors finished off the first half on a 5-0 run to take a 36-24 lead into halftime. Six different Warriors tallied points in the quarter.

The Warriors defense gave the Black Knights too many open looks at 3-pointers in the first half and fortunately for Wilton, Stamford couldn’t knock them down.

Matt Kronenberg had the hot hand for the Warriors coming out of the break, as he poured in 11 points in the third quarter, putting his team ahead 54-39 going into the fourth quarter.

With eight minutes left to play, the Warriors looked to cruise to their 13th win of the season, but the Black Knights weren’t going to leave the building without putting up a fight.

Coming into Monday’s game, Stamford was 4-11 overall and 2-9 in the conference. But that didn’t tell the whole story, as seven of the Black Knights losses were by  six points or less. The visitors put a little scare in the Warriors and made them work for their win.

Stamford started the fourth quarter on a 12-0 run in the first two and a half minutes of the final period to pull within three points at 54-51. Kyle Shifrin went one for two from the free-throw line to record the first points of the period for the Warriors with 5:04 to play in the game. A bucket by Tevin St. John pulled the Black Knights to within two points at 55-53 with just under five minutes remaining. St. John and Jerome Atkinson fueled the Stamford comeback attempt.

Maatallah went left hand high off the glass to stop the run and give the Warriors their first basket of the fourth quarter. Maatallah, who finished with a game-high 20 points (for the second game in a row), scored the next five points for the Warriors to put Wilton back up by nine at 62-53. Connolly threaded a nice bounce pass to Kronenberg for a layup and the Warriors lead was 11 points. Kronenberg closed out the scoring with two free throws for the 67-56 Warrior win.

“We came out strong and scored 22 points in the first quarter, but we played the fourth quarter not to lose the game, as opposed to win the game,” said Kronenberg. “It’s great to make the FCIAC playoffs for the fifth year in a row, but as the coach stated we need to play better as a team. They set some good screens, but we were slow to react on defense, which gave them too many open shots.”

In addition to Maatallah’s game-high 20 points, Kronenberg finished with 18 points and Breslin chipped in with nine points. St. John led the Black Knights with 14 points.

Wilton was 12 for 19 from the free-throw line, while Stamford only went to the free-throw line three times in the game, going two for three.