UNCASVILLE >> A comeback for the ages finally toppled the last remaining undefeated team in the state.
Bridgeport Central erased a 19-point halftime deficit in the third quarter. Then Central and Fairfield Prep exchanged haymakers throughout the fourth quarter, big basket after big basket.
But in the end, Central had the last laugh.
Orhan Cecunjamin scored the go-ahead basket, Tyler Ancrum made a steal, then two free throws. Fairfield Prep’s Keith Pettway missed a tying three-point shot and Central had the 76-73 win and the Class LL state championship at Mohegan Sun Arena.
“The way I look at it is one really bad half of basketball,” Prep coach Leo Redgate said.
The Hilltoppers (27-1), the No. 2 ranked team in the GameTimeCT/Register Top 10 poll entering the poll, will move up to the top spot when the final poll comes out on Tuesday.
It’s the fifth state title for the Hilltoppers and third for McLeod.
“It’s got to be at the top,” McLeod said. “The magnitude of the game, them not having lost and them having their way with everybody, doing what they did to us in the first half, no doubt about it.”
Fairfield Prep also finishes at 27-1.
“We knew it (the press) would be relentless, and they had no choice but to do it,” Redgate said.
“Unfortunately there is only so much you can do. We went over it a thousand times. Ultimately, give Central credit, they came out like their lives depended upon it and it did. Some guys made some careless decisions and we paid for it.”
Paschal Chukwu finished with a triple-double — 21 points, 17 rebounds and 12 blocked shots — in his final game for the Jesuits.
“I think this will last for a couple of weeks. This was a game we had,” Chukwu said. “They came back in the second half and took it from us.”
The Jesuits were up by as many as 19 points (45-26) late in the second quarter, getting to the basket with ease and shooting 61.8 percent in the opening half. With one halftime adjustment, that 18-point halftime lead disappeared.
Central put on a 2-2-1 full-court press off both makes and misses. And Prep wilted, turning the ball over 12 times in the third quarter. Ancrum’s last basket of the third quarter gave Central the 57-56 lead.
Prep finally recovered and held three separate leads in the fourth quarter, the final one after Pettway’s steal and basket. With 39.4 seconds left.
He was fouled on the play, but he missed the free throw. Then Cecunjanin went underneath the basket – and Chukwu – for the layup and the 74-73 lead with 21 seconds left. After Ancrum came up with a steal, he was fouled with 10.6 seconds left.
He made them both.
Redgate said he liked the final look Pettway got, but it did bounce off the rim and Central players headed to the far baseline to celebrate with their fellow students.
This was the second straight year and third in the last four that Prep reached the LL final, but couldn’t achieve that final step.
BRIDGEPORT CENTRAL 76, FAIRFIELD PREP 73
Bridgeport Central 14 15 28 19 – 76
Fairfield Prep 23 24 9 17 – 73
BRIDGEPORT CENTRAL (76)
Dondre Daniels 2 0-0 5, Shaquan Bretox 4 4-5 12, tyler Ancrum 6 2-4 15, Orhan Cecujanin 8 0-0 16, Marcus Blackwell 6 3-3 17, J Sommerville 1 1-2 3, Ricky Grant 1 0-0 2, Antwan Pettway 2 0-0 4, Ikpeka Brown 1 0-0 2. Totals: 31 10-14 76
FAIRFIELD PREP (73)
Keith Pettway 7 3-6 17, Thomas Nolan 5 0-0 13, Dave Zielinski 0 0-0 0, Ryan Foley 7 0-0 17, Paschal Chukwu 10 1-1 21, Ray Featherston 2 0-0 5, Patrick Harding 0 0-0 0. Totals: 31 4-7 73
3-point goals: Bridgeport Central 4 (Daniels 1, Ancrum 1, Blackwell 2); Fairfield Prep 7 (Nolan 3, Foley 3, Featherston 1); Records: Bridgeport Central 27-1; Fairfield Prep 27-1