NEW HAVEN >> The Fairfield Prep boys basketball team is undefeated and No. 1 for plenty of reasons.
One of the biggest is the Jesuits have plenty of answers off the bench, especially when people get hurt. For instance, Ryan Foley has been able to step in and contribute since sophomore starter Ryan Murphy suffered a high ankle sprain against Hillhouse on Jan. 4.
Now, with Ryan Foley out for an extended period due to mononucleosis, freshman forward Pat Harding contributed 15 points in Friday’s 70-58 win over No. 6 Hillhouse at the Floyd Little Athletic Center.
“I think Patrick was the difference in the game in the first half,” Prep coach Leo Redgate said. “There is no seniority here. The best kids play and I think it works. (Harding) is not afraid of playing against anybody, I love him. He works really hard in practice and the guys on the team love him.”
Said Prep center Paschal Chukwu: “Last year, we played six or seven guys. This year, we play nine or even more. If a key player gets in foul trouble, other players can step up in that same position.”
Top-ranked Prep (14-0) has swept the season series from sixth-ranked Hillhouse (9-4), the defending Class LL and SCC tournament champion.
But the biggest reason for Prep’s success thus far is still the biggest kid on its roster — or any CIAC roster, for that matter.
The Providence-bound Chukwu, a 7-foot-2 senior center, has been a difference-maker since he helped lead Trinity Catholic to a Class M state championship as a freshman.
On Friday, Chukwu finished with game-highs in points (24) and blocked shots (9) and also had nine rebounds.
The Academics are one of the few teams in the SCC to challenge the big man at the rim.
They paid the price in this rematch after getting him into foul trouble back on Jan. 4.
“I think he played a little more disciplined. He went after the shots he knew he could block,” Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton said. “We wanted to see if he was going to be the one to beat us and he did.”
Hillhouse is used to having the answers. The team had plenty of them last season en route to its CIAC-record 22nd state championship.
Now, Hillhouse has been left searching for answers as the regular season hits the third-quarter pole.
Prep went on an 18-2 run in the first half to go ahead 24-11. The Academics never got closer than eight thereafter.
“Every time we got within single digits, we couldn’t get the stop we needed,” Sutton said. “We would have to play a perfect game in order to beat them. Tonight wasn’t it.”
Shane Christie led the Academics with 22 points and Raiquan Clark added 18 points.
Redgate said Foley will be out approximately one month. Murphy will remain out for at least another week, maybe more.
FAIRFIELD PREP 70, HILLHOUSE 58
(at New Haven)
Fairfield Prep 17 17 18 18 – 70
Hillhouse 9 15 15 19 – 58
FAIRFIELD PREP (70)
Paschal Chukwu 8 10-15 26, David Zielinski 2 1-2 6, Keith Pettway 3 3-4 9, Thomas Nolan 2 1-2 6, Ray Featherston 3 1-4 8, Patrick Harding 6 3-6 15. Totals: 24 19-33 70
Wayne Whyth 1 0-0 2, Dion Boyd 1 1-2 3, Corey Barrett 3 3-4 11, Troy Waters 0 0-0 0, Isaiah Lewis 1 0-0 2, Ellis Goodlow 0 0-0 0, Shane Christie 7 7-9 22, Raiquan Clark 6 5-11 18, Aaron White 0 0-0 0. Totals: 19 16-26 58
3-point goals: Fairfield Prep 3 ( Zielinski 1, Nolan 1, Featherston 1); Hillhouse 4 (Barrett 2, Christie 1, Clark 1); Fouled out: Fairfield Prep (Zielinski, Pettway.); Hillhouse (Boyd); Records: Fairfield Prep 14-0; Hillhouse 9-4