FAIRFIELD >> The Career boys basketball team has had Fairfield Prep on the ropes twice this season. In both games, the Panthers led the Jesuits in the fourth quarter.
Both times, Fairfield Prep rallied for the win. The latest was Thursday night as the top-ranked Jesuits came from behind to beat No. 5 Career 71-65 at Alumni Hall.
“I definitely think Career is the best team we have faced,” Prep coach Leo Redgate said. “They are scrappy and they make us a better team. Win, lose or draw this game made us a better team moving forward.”
Prep, the state’s last remaining undefeated team, is now one win away from a perfect regular season. The Jesuits (19-0) will be the top seed in the SCC tournament and Career will be No. 2. Both will receive byes into the quarterfinal round.
The only way these two teams can face one another again would be in the SCC tournament final on March 5.
“Our kids did a good job this year,” Career coach Larry Kelley said. “They have the second-best record in the history of the school in the regular season. These kids play and they play hard. A play here or a play there, we are on the other end.”
Career was in a similar position back on Jan. 19 at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven before losing 63-58.
“If we play great perimeter defense, we will be a tough team to beat,” Redgate said. “We handled their pressure much better tonight than we did (Jan. 19).”
On Thursday, the lead changed hands four times in the final quarter.
Prep took the lead for good at the 3-minute mark (64-62) when Tommy Nolan cut through the lane for a basket. Career hung around, but committed two crucial turnovers on consecutive possessions without a shot inside of 2 minutes remaining.
“I thought we played a pretty decent game, 95 percent of the game,” Kelley said. “The other 5 percent got away from us. We just didn’t figure out who should take what shots either time.”
Keith Pettway hit four straight free throws with under a minute remaining to seal the victory. Pettway led all scorers with 25 points, including 15 of 17 from the line.
“Our coach gives us all the tools to run the plays and we run the plays right,” Pettway said.
Career’s Justin Campbell more than held his own against Prep center Paschal Chukwu. Campbell had 20 points against the 7-2 giant headed for Providence College in the fall.
Chukwu finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks. He sat for almost 5 minutes in the second half after committing his fourth foul. Redgate put him back in with 5:11 left.
“He is a shot-changer. Our main focus was to make the extra pass to try and get him in foul trouble,” said Career guard Tyreek Perkins, who finished with 14 points.
Said Kelley: “The way I feel, I think we play harder when he is in the lineup. They take a rest subconsciously (when Chukwu out of the lineup).
Murphy “most likely” done for season
Prep guard Ryan Murphy indicated before Thursday’s game that the high ankle sprain he suffered back on Jan. 4 will “most likely” keep him out for the rest of the season.
Murphy, a sophomore, was averaging over 20 points per game before suffering the injury against Hillhouse.
FAIRFIELD PREP 71, CAREER 65
Career 14 16 17 18 – 65
Fairfield Prep 23 12 16 20 – 71
Amos Ford 5 1-1 11, Tyreek Perkins 5 2-4 14, Tyrell Eaddy 2 3-3 7, Matt Hamilton 1 1-3 3, Justin Campbell 6 8-12 20, Jordan Lomax 1 6-7 8, Justice Phifer 1 0-0 2. Totals: 21 21-30 65
FAIRFIELD PREP (71)
Paschal Chukwu 7 7-13 21, David Zielinski 4 0-0 9, Keith Pettway 5 15-17 25, Thomas Nolan 3 2-2 8, Ray Featherston 3 1-3 8, Joe DiGennaro 0 0-1 0, Drew Rollap 0 0-0 0, Patrick Harding 0 0-0 0. Totals: 22 25-36 71
3-point goals: Career 2 (Perkins 2); Fairfield Prep 2 ( Zielinski 1, Featherston 1); Fouled out: Career (Ford); Records: Career 17-3; Fairfield Prep 19-0
Notes: Technical foul: Career coach Larry Kelley.