FAIRFIELD >> Head coach Greg Gwudz and the rest of the Waterford boys’ basketball team feel a lot more comfortable when senior Donny Craig has control of the basketball.
Monday evening at Sister Marion Rielly Memorial Auditorium playing in the Class M quarterfinals, the ball was an extension of the Craig’s hand for a near 32 minutes against Notre Dame of Fairfield.
Craig poured in a game-high 31 points as No. 7 Waterford survived a late fourth quarter rally from No. 2 Notre Dame to win 66-63 to advance to the state semifinals.
Waterford will now face No. 3 East Catholic on Wednesday evening for a chance to go to the state title game.
“He’s phenomenal. He’s been our leader all year,” Gwudz said of Craig. “He stepped up when it counted most.”
That couldn’t have been more apparent in the fourth quarter as Notre Dame used a 25 point final quarter to give itself a chance to come back and win.
But as it went all game, whenever Notre Dame found momentum, Craig was there with an answerer.
With 17 seconds remaining in the game, Notre Dame senior Jaylen Jennings converted on a shot to make it a one point game. The next possession, Craig was fouled and made one of two from the line. A play later, Waterford again, made a key defensive stop and Craig was fouled. With seven ticks left, he made one free throw to give his team a 66-63 lead.
Notre Dame was able to advance the ball quickly up the court and found Jennings at the top of the arc, but he was closely guarded and his shot hit the back of the rim and bounced out.
“Waterford, they executed when they had to execute,” ND-Fairfield head coach Vinny Laczkoski said. “They were able to pull out a very, very nice win today.”
Added Gwudz: “We just knew we had to get the ball inbounds and then they would foul us…it sounds easy but it was hard. We didn’t look great on the press. We did get the ball inbounds when it counted, and we hit our free throws when it counted most.”
Waterford had a well-orchestrated game plan as they doubled up on Notre Dame’s Jennings and limited his touches throughout the evening. Jennings finished with three points.
“We scouted them and we know what they are about. Jennings is one of the best players in the state,” Gwudz said.
“The kid had a great year for us,” Laczkoski said of Jennings.
Waterford, which was down by one point at the half, limited Notre Dame to just six points, outscoring them by nine points. Craig had nine of his team’s 15 points in that pivotal third quarter.
Notre Dame slowly crept back but Craig and Waterford seemed to always be there with an answer. And that included a razzle-dazzle pump shot from Craig in the early fourth quarter to give Waterford a 47-38 edge.
“He was terrific,” Laczkoski said. “We tried four different ways and we couldn’t stop him.”
Waterford’s Schneider Jean-Pierre finished with 13.
Notre Dame, which returns 10 of its players next season, was led by C.J. Davidson’s 15 points.