GREENWICH — Chris Mark has received increased playing time as the Greenwich boys basketball team’s season has progressed and the senior center is making the most of his minutes.
Driving to the basket with authority, while scoring from inside and transition, Mark scored a career-high 24 points to power the Cardinals, who had to work overtime to get past a pesky Bridgeport Central team.
Mark’s career-best offensive performance, 20 points from senior center Oliver Milledge and 11 points from junior guard Chris Genaro paced host Greenwich to an 82-74 overtime win over Bridgeport Central in an FCIAC matchup.
The victory raised the Cardinals’ record to 9-7 overall and 6-7 in the FCIAC, as they battle for one of the final spots in the conference tournament.
The 6-foot-5 Mark, who has scored in double figures several times the past weeks, totaled 14 points over the final three quarters.
“He’s gotten increased minutes, he’s picked up the offense for us,” GHS coach Chris Lovermi said of Mark. “He’s done a nice job the past two weeks, no doubt about it. He’s helped us and he’s going to have to help us in the next two weeks. It was a great effort, now it’s going to have to continue.”
Central (3-13) was led by the solid perimeter shooting of junior guard Travis Griffins who scored 19 points, including four 3-pointers. Sophomore forward Rajeeve Walker of the Hilltoppers was difficult to defend, tallying a game-high 25 points, by displaying strong moves to the basket and crashing the offensive backboards.
The visitors trailed most of the game and fell behind by eight to 10 points the majority of the second half, but battled back. Walker converted a free throw with 2:01 remaining, giving Central a 67-66 lead with 2:07 left in the fourth quarter. Greenwich senior guard Max Steinman (10 points) made a free throw at the 1:41 mark of the fourth quarter to tie the score at 67-67.
Central had possession with a chance to take the lead and win the game in the closing minute, but couldn’t convert. The score was 69-69 heading into overtime, after sophomore guard Jaden Vieira’s floater hit the backboard and went through the hoop for Central with 21.7 second to go in regulation.
“We gave it away at the end,” Central coach Barry McLeod said. “We should have won the game in regulation, but we threw the ball away and turned it over. I didn’t feel good going into overtime, because we had two guys with four fouls.”
The Hilltoppers trailed 63-56 after three quarters, but forced overtime by limiting Greenwich to six points over the final eight minutes of regulation.
”Defensively, we played well in the fourth quarter,” McLeod said. ”We pressed and trapped them and confused them a little bit. We played without two of our guards who have sprained ankles, so we couldn’t do that the whole game, because we didn’t have the man power.”
In overtime, Genaro’s layup gave the Cardinals the lead for good at 71-69 with 3:57 left. Mark scored off a pass from senior Billy Nail and Genaro made another basket, making it 75-69.
“I think I’ve taken advantage of this opportunity by scoring more, being more of a hustler on defense and being a leader on the court,” Mark said. “My teammates did a great job of passing the ball to me — Billy Nail had a nice pass to me from the corner in overtime. I’ll definitely remember this game.”
The Cards held leads of 55-44 and 59-47 after baskets by Genaro and Mark. Milledge thrived in the low post, but Central wouldn’t go away, as Walker and Griffins kept them within striking distance with timely baskets.
“Going into overtime, we knew we had to win that game,” Genaro said. “A spot in the FCIAC Tournament is on the line, we knew we needed to win that game.”
Nail had five points, while Chason Barber and Dan Arnold had four for GHS, which saw Mark make his presence felt throughout.
“He is going to be an asset for us going into our next four games and the postseason,” Milledge said of Mark. “The coaching staff has him hyped up and he’s playing really well.”
Genaro’s layup off a pick-and-roll gave GHS a 36-28 lead at the 1:34 mark of the second quarter. Later, Barber’s jump hook just before the buzzer sent the Cards into halftime with a 43-34 lead.
Milledge’s reverse layup put Central behind, 61-51 with 1:05 to go in the third quarter, but the Hilltoppers cut into the deficit, behind Walker’s impressive play in the paint and Griffins’ clutch shooting.
”Their 3-point shooting was good, it was tough on us,” Lovermi said. ”But we also had seven turnovers in the fourth quarter and hurt ourselves. We left the door open for them and it will be a learning experience for us. Fortunately, we made enough plays to get the win.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Mark shot 6 for 6 from the foul line, besides making nine shots from the floor.
“Chris Mark has one of the best first steps when he’s driving to the hoop,” Lovermi said. “When he sees the lane and takes the ball to the rim, not many players can stop him.”
GREENWICH 82, BRIDGEPORT CENTRAL 74 (OT)
BRIDGEPORT CENTRAL 10 24 22 13 5 — 74
GREENWICH 16 27 20 6 13 — 82
BRIDGEPORT CENTRAL (3-13)
Jeremiah Deveaux 0 0-0 0; Travis Griffins 7 1-1 19; Kevin Moales 1 0-0 3; Remiel Smith 0 0-0 0; Jaden Vieira 4 3-4 13; Rajeeve Walker 9 7-10 25; Kwaeli Gooden 2 0-0 6; Marco Acevedo 3 1-1 8. Totals: 26 12-16 74.
Chris Genaro 5 1-3 11; Max Steinman 4 1-3 10; Dan Arnold 2 0-0 4; Chris Mark 9 6-6 24; Luis Mercado 2 0-0 4; Billy Nail 2 1-2 5; Oliver Milledge 8 2-3 20; Chason Barber 2 0-0 4. Totals: 34 11-17 82.
3-pointers: BC — Griffins 4, Vieira 2, Gooden 2, Acevedo, Moales; G — Steinman.
Records: Greenwich 9-7; Bridgeport Central 3-13.