NEWTOWN — When the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the state match up, sometimes the hype can surpass the game itself.
That was not the case Thursday night as No. 1 Notre Dame-Fairfield survived the toughest test it has faced all season, beating No. 2 Newtown 56-53 in front of a large crowd at Newtown.
With the game tied with 34 seconds left, Notre Dame sophomore Taylor Gibbs knocked down two free throws, putting her team ahead 54-52.
After Newtown made one free throw, it was Aizhanique Mayo hitting two more free throws for the Lancers, putting them up by three with 6.1 seconds remaining.
A long 3-point attempt by Newtown at the buzzer fell short and No. 1 Notre Dame escaped with another road win in the SWC.
“I was so nervous because I hadn’t been hitting anything from the foul line all game,” Gibbs said of her trip to the free-throw line. “I knew it was clutch to make those free throws. When the first one went in, it felt so good. When the second one went in, I was like ‘we got this.’”
The game was one of big runs over the first three quarters with both teams holding double-digit leads.
Newtown went up 12-2 in the first quarter before Notre Dame rallied, closing out the first eight minutes with Newtown up 12-8.
In the second quarter, Notre Dame turned up the defense and scoring in transition as part of a 22-7 second quarter.
When Notre Dame opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer, it led 33-19.
Then it was Newtown’s turn.
The Nighthawks went on a 16-0 run, fueled by two 3s each from seniors Cyleigh Wilson and Carlie Smith.
Newtown was up 37-36 after three quarters.
In the fourth, the lead changed hands six times.
Newtown stayed in it behind the electric 3-point shooting of Wilson who hit three more in the fourth quarter.
“Cyleigh (Wilson) and Amy (Sapenter) have been our two biggest scorers all year but we have had other kids step up night in and night out. (Wilson) at one point was just like ‘get me the ball.’ That’s not usually how we play but when you’re hot, you have to keep feeding her,” Newtown coach Jeremy O’Connell said. “We just needed to be ourselves. In the second quarter, we got away from what defines us. That’s being a team and playing together. When we did that in the second half, everything started coming together.”
Wilson finished with a game-high 20 points with Smith adding 15 for the Nighthawks, who suffered their first loss in state.
Yamani McCollough had 16 for Notre Dame, with Gibbs adding 12.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Aizhanique Mayo, Notre Dame. Mayo scored 17, leading Notre Dame. She played her best with her team trailing in the second quarter, scoring 10 points, including two big 3s.
“I knew (Newtown) was going to come out strong in the third quarter and they would make some adjustments. We also knew they would not continue to miss open 3s,” Notre Dame coach Maria Conlon said. “It was important for us to weather that storm. I was happy with the fact we had our backs against the wall and we came back. This is not an easy place to play on the road.”