NEW CANAAN — Twenty minutes before New Canaan’s boys basketball playoff game against the Griswold Wolverines, head coach Danny Melzer was asked what kind of a performance he expected from his Rams.
It didn’t take long for his players to provide the answer.
No. 4 New Canaan jumped out to a 13-5 first quarter lead en route to a dominant 55-27 win over the 13th-seeded Wolverines in the second round of the CIAC Div. IV tournament Wednesday at New Canaan High School.
“I thought we showed spurts of excellent basketball tonight,” Melzer said. “I told my guys if we can play 32 minutes of our highest level of basketball, we are going to be in great shape. We had a couple of moments of inconsistency, but for the most part I was very happy with what I saw.”
Those moments of inconsistency were few and far between for the Rams (17-5), who completely outmatched and outmanned Griswold in virtually every facet of the game.
The Rams will now face No. 5 St. Bernard (18-5) in the quarterfinals at 7 p.m., Friday, at NCHS. The Saints beat Masuk 74-53 in the first round and took down No. 12 Wolcott 71-50 in their second round game.
The Wolverines (13-8), who won Tuesday’s first round matchup 71-62 over Platt, showed signs of fatigue in the early going that grew exponentially throughout the contest as the Rams began to pull away.
“I could tell we were gassed,” Griswold head coach Rob Mileski said. “I only have eight varsity guys but I don’t think last night had too much to do with it. New Canaan is good. They’re big, long, well-coached and have good players. We were a little overmatched and I think if we had yesterday off it would not have mattered. It would have been a miraculous win if we had pulled it off.”
Conversely, New Canaan, which out-rebounded Griswold 31-16, had nine players land in the scorebook led by senior Matt Brand with 17 points. Sophomore Christian Sweeney scored eight off the bench and senior co-captain Luke Rwambuya added seven for the Rams, who were making their first state playoff appearance in 10 seasons and won their first postseason game in exactly 11 years.
After a somewhat uneven start, the Rams found their rhythm with a little more than three minutes left in the first. New Canaan ended the quarter on an 11-2 run and continued to push the gas in the second, outscoring Griswold 15-5 to take a 28-10 lead into the half.
After Griswold’s CJ Mattson drilled a three to open the third, New Canaan exploded for an 11-0 run over the next two minutes, opening up a 39-13 lead with 4:27 left in the quarter.
The Wolverines closed the gap to 39-21, but that was as close as Griswold would get. New Canaan senior co-captain Jack Richardson hit a layup with 20 seconds left in the third to send the Rams into the fourth with a 41-21 lead.
New Canaan opened up the fourth by scoring the first nine points of the quarter on baskets by Rwambuya, Brand and junior Jonathan Hall to take a 50-21 lead with five minutes left to play.
Griswold seniors Matt Dembinski and Jason Hall added baskets for the Wolverines to make it 50-25 New Canaan, but Rams sophomore Denis Mulcahy’s layup and junior Brandon Sechan’s three extended the New Canaan lead to a game-high 30 points.
Dembinski, who led Griswold with eight points, scored the final basket of the game to make it 55-27 New Canaan.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Matt Brand, New Canaan. The Rams senior forward — who missed almost all of last year with a broken wrist — was a huge factor at both ends of the court. Thirteen of his game-high 17 points came in the second half as New Canaan pulled away from the Wolverines.
“I watched Griswold last night down nine in the fourth quarter come back and win that game. I told my guys that I didn’t want to watch that again tonight. We were up 18 at halftime and I told them that we needed to turn that 18 into 30 and put this game away. We came out in the third quarter ready to go and that’s what you need to do to put teams away.” – New Canaan head coach Danny Melzer.