Boys basketball: Wilton nips Cadets in close one, 62-61

The Wilton High boys basketball team had its mettle and character tested on Monday in the opening game of the 3rd annual MLK/ALI Basketball Classic held at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport.

The Warriors, who had blown out all but one of their first seven opponents, found themselves playing from behind for most of Monday’s contest. But they were able to forge ahead late in the game to come away with an exciting 62-61 win in a great venue.

The Warriors remained unbeaten at 8-0.

Wilton, which briefly led three times in the first half (four points was its biggest lead) and was behind the entire third quarter (tied once), worked hard at keeping the game close and missed chances to put points on the board the entire game.

Kyle Maatallah hustled after a ball that was going out of bounds, flipped it to Jack Williams, who was under the basket, and Williams laid it in at the buzzer to put the Warriors down by two, 51-49, at the end of the third quarter.

The Cadets opened the four quarter with two free throws from Jack Moulder and a basket by Gavin Greene to increase their lead to six, 55-49. Wilton answered right back on a basket by Williams and a reverse layup by Maatallah to get within two again.

After St. Joe’s hit a shot, Williams and Scott Cunningham hit buckets for the Warriors and with 3:05 to play the score was tied at 57-57. Cunningham’s basket came off a feed from Williams on a fast break as a result of a Cadet turnover.

The Cadets regained the lead on a basket by Greene with 2:15 left. For Wilton it was Williams again connecting for two to tie the game at 59-59. Williams had 12 second-half points, and 18 for the game.

The Warriors got their game-winning points from the foul line, where Drew Connolly went three-for-six on three trips to the free-throw line. Connolly’s foul shots put Wilton up 62-59 with under 10 second to play. Williams stole the ball under the Wilton basket with 8.8 seconds to play, forcing the Cadets to foul Connolly a third time. Omar Telfer hit a layup with 2.3 second remaining, as the Warriors let him drive to the hole and not foul him for a three-point opportunity.

St. Joe’s fouled Cunningham on the inbounds pass with 1.3 second left. Cunningham missed the first free throw and Wilton head coach Joel Geriak told him to miss the second one on purpose so time would expire.

“We didn’t get out to our big lead like we have in most of this year’s game, so the kids knew it was going to be a battle.” said Geriak. “St. Joe’s has a lot of talented players on their team. They have a good point guard to run the offense, Moulder is deadly from outside and their freshman Greene played well and has a huge upside to his game. But our team showed a lot of character and worked hard and stayed focused on winning the game. We got pushed early and it took us awhile but we finally pushed back and came away with the win. We missed several foul shots, which didn’t help our cause, and forced up some shots. We didn’t dominate the boards as we have this season, but the team still worked hard on defense, which helped us get the victory.”

The Cadets won the opening tip, which started them on an 11-4 run to open the game. St. Joe’s had three seven-point leads in the first quarter, but two foul shots by Jack Wood cut the Cadet lead to 21-17 at the end of one.

In the second quarter, the Warriors had their first leads on the game, with their biggest lead at four points. Three-pointers by Connolly and Williams gave Wilton a 29-25 lead. St. Joe’s closed out the first half on a 6-0 run to take a 31-29 lead into the break. Greene put back a missed foul shot in the run, which was a backbreaker for the Warriors.

The Cadets’ lead was three at 34-31 when the St. Joe’s head coach was called for a technical foul for arguing a non-call. Matt Kronenburg hit both free throws to cut the lead to one and with 6:15 left in the third quarter a Williams’ bucket tied the game at 35-35.

“We got off to a slow start because we haven’t played in a week. Our last game was last Tuesday and we have been playing two games a week,” said Williams. “We stayed composed and kept attacking. I feel we were better conditioned than they were, so we wore them down and we had energy left in the end to get the win.”

Williams led Wilton with 18 points, followed by Connolly and Maatallah with 10 points each. Wilton cooled off from three-point land, only draining five in the game.

The Cadets (4-4) were led by Camren Menefee with 18 points, Moulder and Greene with 15 points apiece, and Telfer with 10 points.