HAMDEN — The Hamden Green Dragons have answered every challenge thus far.
They’ve won by blowout, pulled away from tough opponents on the road and, in their biggest test of the season Friday night, answered the call one more time in the final quarter.
Fourth-ranked Hamden scored the first three baskets of the final period and eventually put No. 10 Xavier away 74-58 at home in an SCC contest to move to 8-0.
“Coach (Jarrad Beck) basically told us to take care of the ball and run our sets,” said Hamden guard Jaylen Ricks.
Said Beck: “We are enjoying getting better right now. I think we have a ways to go. We are still a young team that can’t rest on our laurels.”
Ricks, who made two of those three baskets (Ronnie Ellis had the other), finished with 23 points while Victor Rosario added 16 for the Green Dragons.
Xavier (5-3) had won five straight coming in, including knocking off Hillhouse on the road last Saturday. But Hamden (8-0) forced Xavier to play its uptempo style in the second quarter, putting the Falcons down double digits.
“We have to rebound and play defense better. We didn’t do either of those things well,” Xavier coach Mike Kohs said. “We couldn’t keep Ricks and Rosario out of the paint. They got to the rim at will it seemed.”
Jackson Benigni finally got untracked for Xavier in the third quarter. After scoring just four points in the first half, the junior guard scored 10 straight for Xavier in the third, including consecutive three-pointers.
That run by Benigni cut the to 50-41. A buzzer-beating layup by Matt Bielenda (24 points) cut the deficit to 52-45.
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“I picked up three fouls in the first quarter, so in the second half, I couldn’t guard him a lot,” Ricks said about Benigni.
Then Hamden answered back to start the fourth and the Falcons never threatened again.
“Against a team like Xavier that is well-disciplined and well-coached and can shoot the ball, you have to be mentally tough,” Beck said. “Our defense was excellent most of the game.”
Benigni led all scorers with 26 points.
“Ricks came down and scored on back-to-back possessions to get it back to more than 10,” Kohs said. “By that time, we were too far behind to make many mistakes. Hamden will be a tough team to beat, especially here.”
Rosario had seven points and two assists in the second quarter when the Green Dragons built the lead to double digits. A 10-2 run to start the quarter built Hamden’s advantage to 29-16.
Xavier shot over 50 percent from the floor in the first half (10 of 18), but the tempo eventually worked into Hamden’s favor.
Beck credited Doug Daniels with some solid defense as well for the Green Dragons.
“Dougie doesn’t get a lot of credit because he’s not in the boxscore with enormous point totals,” Beck said. “Without him, we would be nowhere near where we are now.”
Ellis and Fabian Cox both added 10 points for Hamden.
Hamden 74, Xavier 58
XAVIER<WL>14 11 20 13—58
HAMDEN<WL>19 17 16 22—74
Jackson Benigni 9 8-9 26, Matt Bielenda 10 3-4 24, Kyle MacGillis 0 1-2 1, Zach Stole 2 2-3 6, Dan Comcowich 1 0-0 2, Andrew Brown 0 0-0 0, Marcus Williams 0 0-0 0. Totals 22 14-18 58.
Doug Daniels 4 0-0 9, Victo Rosario 6 3-3 16, Ronnie Ellis 5 0-0 10, Fabian Cox 4 2-2 10, Jayquan Browell 3 0-4 6, Jaylen Ricks 7 6-7 23, . Totals 32 11-16 74.
3 Point Goals: Xavier3 (Benigni 2, Bielenda); Hamden 5 (Ricks 3, Rosario, Daniels). Fouled out: Bielenda.