FAIRFIELD >> Fairfield Prep head basketball coach Leo Redgate called Saturday’s first half performance against Notre Dame-Fairfield the best basketball his team has played to date this season. And 16 minutes was really all the Jesuits needed.
Led by an aggressive and stifling defensive effort from the start, Prep jumped out to a 25-8 and cruised to the 83-52 victory over the Lancers to win the Fairfield Holiday Tournament for the second year in a row at Alumni Hall.
“I thought we played better defense tonight than we did the other night,” said Redgate, referring to the Jesuits 109-64 win over Warde on Thursday in the opening round of the tournament. “Defensively I thought we did really well.”
The Jesuits (4-0) took advantage of some early Notre Dame (1-3) mistakes and had no trouble connecting on the offensive end. Prep’s defense held the Lancers to just five field goals in the first half and did a nice job of limiting Notre Dame’s CJ Davidson to seven points on the evening. Jaylen Jennings scored a game-high 21 points for the Lancers, with 11 of those coming in the second half.
“We were very, very, tight to start the game,” Notre Dame head coach Vin Laczkoski said. “And like true great teams they smelled blood and went after us. And give them credit; they did a very, very good job. That’s why they are No. 1 in the state.”
Prep received a balanced effort scoring as 11 players connected with the hoop, led by senior Dave Zielinski’s 18 points who was named the tournament MVP for his efforts on both ends of the floor. Prep had six players score in double figures as the Jesuits led 53-20 at the half. Senior center Paschal Chukwu, guard Ryan Murphy and Ray Featherston netted 11 and Tom Nolan and senior guard Keith Pettway added 10 apiece for the Jesuits.
Notre Dame settled down in the second half, but it was too much of an uphill climb as Prep rotated players in and didn’t let the Lancers outscore them in the final two quarters.
Redgate stressed the progression of his team and improving each game. Prep will have its first big test come Jan. 3 as they host Hillhouse in a rematch of last year’s Class LL state final
“Our goal is to keep getting better,” Redgate said.
Keeping with the theme of defense, in Saturday’s consolation game of the tournament, Warde (1-3) picked up its first win over the season with a 60-50 victory over Ludlowe.
“Since our first three games we’ve really put a lot of focus on our defense,” head coach Ryan Swaller said. “And the goal for us was to keep them (Ludlowe) at 50 and we kept them right there. And we knew if we did that we’d have an opportunity to win if our offense came through.”
After falling behind in the opening quarter, the Mustangs buckled down on both ends of the floor finding a nice rhyme, outscoring Ludlowe 21-10 in the second quarter. Junior Brandon Bisack connected on three 3-pointers and scored all 11 of his points to give Warde a 30-23 lead at the half.
“He’s huge,” Warde senior Nick Cotto said of Bisack. “He knocked them down in practice (and) we made a nice run down there in the end of the first half.”
Ludlowe fought its way back into the game as junior Chad Peterson drove the lane to tie the game at 46 with 3:37 left. But Warde’s Giacomo Brancato and Cotto both hit jumpers and then Brancato made two free throws to build a 52-46 advantage that held.
“We expended a lot of energy in the third quarter getting back into the game,” Ludlowe coach John Dailey said. “They were really ready for us. They had a good game plan.”
Warde was paced by Cotto’s 20 points and Brancato added 16. Darren Lee led Ludlowe (1-3) with 15 and Mark Malone chipped in 12.
“We (had a) tough first three games but to be able to come off that, stay together and get a win here (and) to come in third place, it’s not what we wanted coming into this but we’ll take it, definitely,” Cotto said.
Jennings, Davidson, Malone, Cotto, Zielinski and Nolan were all named to the all-tournament team.