NEW CANAAN — With a victory over rival Darien already under its belt, it’s not as if the New Canaan girls basketball team was looking for a signature win.
But the Rams’ latest game against Greenwich may have taken their season to another level.
New Canaan outscored the Cards 20-5 in the first half and then held off a furious Greenwich rally for a 37-33 win Tuesday night at NCHS. It was the Rams’ first win against Greenwich since 2012.
The victory extended the Rams’ winning streak to four games and gave them a 5-2 record, just two wins short of their total last winter. They’re also 3-1 in the FCIAC.
“We played great in that first half,” New Canaan coach John Winchester said. “Our starting two big girls were in foul trouble, and our girls came off the bench and played well. We always tell the girls on the bench to be prepared, stay engaged in the game and be ready to do your job out there, and the girls did.”
Greenwich, meanwhile, had a two-game win streak snapped and is now 5-2 overall and 4-1 in the conference. The Cardinals made a great run in the second half, outscoring New Canaan 28-13 over the final 14-plus minutes, but the halftime deficit was too much to overcome.
“We played really poorly,” Greenwich coach Chrys Hernandez said of the first half. “We didn’t execute, we allowed New Canaan to dictate the tempo and we didn’t respond with anything we had practiced. Credit to (New Canaan) and their defensive intensity and their scrapiness, but we did not play our basketball.”
The Rams were led offensively by Quinn McKiernan, who scored 11 points, including eight in the first half when New Canaan built its big lead. Her big moment, however, was in the final minute, when she drained three of four free throws after Greenwich had closed the gap to two points.
And she did it without feeling 100%, according to her coach.
“She looked confident,” Winchester said. “The last couple of days, she’s been under the weather, but she still came in and had her best practices and was shooting her best. When Greenwich got a technical (in the second quarter), I put her in there and she hit them both.”
The Rams also had a solid game from Katie Dunn, who scored nine points and was 3-of-4 on free throws in the fourth quarter, including her team’s final two points.
New Canaan’s defense was outstanding in the first half as the Rams bottled up a Cardinals’ offense, which had topped 50 points in five of the first six games. That, coupled with solid rebounding, limited Greenwich’s second-chance shots and led to a 12-1 advantage for New Canaan in the second quarter.
Baskets by Liz DeMarino and Riana Afshar to open the second half boosted the Rams’ lead to 19 points at 24-5.
The Cardinals came to life after that, outscoring New Canaan 12-3 over the remainder of the third quarter. In the fourth, the Greenwich rally continued, buoyed by the play of Mackenzie Nelson, who scored 12 of her 15 points in the second half.
“It was just a refocus at halftime,” Hernandez said. “There were a lot of things that still could’ve gone differently, but they needed to come out and play their game. If we had played in the first half the way we played in the second half, I think it would’ve been a different outcome.”
Greenwich’s Ava Sollenne (8 points) nailed a deep 3-pointer with 40 seconds on the clock, making it a one-possession game with the Rams clinging to a 32-30 lead.
McKiernan hit the first of two free throws to make it a three-point game, but the Rams kept possession on a jump ball after she missed the second shot. McKiernan ended up back at the free throw line and drained two shots to put the game on ice.
Winchester said he’s happy with the win and the way the Rams played in the first half, and the next step is extending that kind of play into the second half.
“We went over everything in practice, we got back to our basics, and today, they did a great job,” Winchester said. “We played a great first half, so now we have to improve and play a great three quarters and a full game.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Quinn McKiernan, New Canaan. McKiernan had a team-high 11 points, six of which came during the Rams’ huge second quarter. She also hit 3-of-4 free throws in the final minute to seal the win for New Canaan.
“I enjoy these girls and I’m happy for them. They come to practice every day and they always work hard for me. It’s a lot of fun.” — New Canaan coach John Winchester