FAIRFIELD >> Dave Zielinski is well aware what the game plan is for his team. That plan includes getting the ball down low to 7 – foot senior Paschal Chukwu.
When the Jesuits’ offense could not get going Friday evening, Zielinski stepped into action. Draining six 3-pointers in the game, including three during a pivotal 20-4 run in the second quarter, Zielinski helped lead the Jesuits, No. 1 in the Register Top 10 poll, to a 73-41 victory over No. 8 Xavier in a Southern Connecticut Conference Quinnipiac Division contest at Alumni Hall.
“The 3-pointers are huge,” Zielinski said after his team improved to 10-0. “They open up the inside for Paschal. We try to get the ball in to Paschal. When he gets going, it opens up the outside. I think we feed off each other when the 3’s are going in.”
Playing without star guard Elijah Pemberton, who was out with an illness, the Falcons gave Prep a scare in the first quarter. That was about all the Falcons could sustain.
The trio of Zielinski, Chukwu and Keith Pettway proved to be too much for the Falcons, combining for 52 points. Prep had a 20-4 run in the first half, then used a 26-0 run in the third quarter to put the game away.
“We tried to contain them,” Xavier coach Michael Kohs said after his team fell to 7-2. “Then we started turning the ball over. It goes from a tight game to them going on a run and the game getting out of hand in a hurry.
“Elijah not playing is huge, but there are no excuses. They are a lot more than Paschal. Their guards are really good. They are a very good team.”
The Jesuits, who averaged 80 points per game entering the contest, had the lead up to 35 points with 5 minutes remaining in the contest as the Falcons were no match for the depth of the Jesuits.
“When we are intense, we are an okay team,” Fairfield Prep coach Leo Redgate said. “When we are not intense, we are average. The first quarter was living proof of that.”
Xavier, which saw its five-game winning steak come to an end, gave the Jesuits all they could handle in the first half, before a 20-4 run by Fairfield Prep turned the game around. While the Falcons tried to contain
Chukwu inside, the Jesuits did their damage in the run from the outside.
Zielinski hit three 3-pointers in the run and four in the first half. The senior captain gave the Jesuits leads of 22-14 and 27-16 with long shots from the outside.
Xavier’s Brandon MacPherson got the Falcons within 30-21 and 32-26 with 3-pointers, but a 3-pointer by Pettway and a dunk by Chukwu at the buzzer sent the Jesuits to the half with a 37-26 lead.
“I should not have to light something under them,” Redgate said. “To their credit, the boys always respond. We wanted to drive and kick it out. Then we could find Paschal.”
The third quarter was no better for the Falcons as they were outscored 29-8, including the 26-0 run which turned a nine-point Prep lead into a route. After the Falcons got on the board first in the quarter on a bucket by MacPherson, the Jesuits turned up their play and were relentless. Chukwu started the run with a basket underneath, then put down an emphatic dunk for a 45-28 lead.
“I don’t think they missed a shot in the third quarter,” Kohs said. “The killer was the third quarter. They nailed 3’s. They can do that to you.”
When Xavier had the inside covered, the Jesuits went back outside and extended the lead to 61-28 on 3-pointers by Ryan Foley and Tommy Nolan.
Thomas Jackson finally ended the Prep run with a basket for Xavier, but the damage was done and the Jesuits led 63-30.
The Falcons pressured Fairfield Prep early as the Jesuits did not get their first points of the game until Nolan’s bucket with 4:33 left in the first quarter. Zielinski’s initial 3-pointer of the game gave the Jesuits their first lead of the contest at 7-6 with 45 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.
Zielinski led the Jesuits with 21 points, Chukwu had 17, Pettway added 14 and Nolan had 10.
MacPherson led Xavier with 12 points and Jackson had 11 in the loss.