NEW CANAAN — It was difficult not to be distracted by the electricity in the air when Darien met rival New Canaan on the basketball court on Tuesday night.
Darien head coach Charoy Bentley, however, managed to make sure his players kept their minds on the task at hand.
“I preached during the game that we had to stay focused,” Bentley said. “It’s a rivalry game, the crowd’s going to get involved, so we just had to stay focused. We did that and made sure we ran our plays correctly, made sure we got stops, and made sure we got the best shot possible.”
Bentley’s advice was well-taken by the Blue Wave players as Darien delivered a steady performance while knocking off the host Rams, 54-45, in front of a packed house at NCHS.
The victory is the biggest of the season for Darien (6-9 overall, 3-9 FCIAC), which has now won two straight and is within striking distance of qualifying for the state playoffs. New Canaan (12-4, 8-4) had a five-game winning streak snapped.
Each team had a large and loud student cheering section for a game which hasn’t attracted that much attention in recent years.
“It was a great atmosphere — they had had a good section, and we had a good section,” Darien’s Will Rolappo said. “They’re a good team, they’re hot and they’ve been winning a lot of games, so it was great to come in here and get a win. It’s huge.”
For New Canaan, the loss comes in the midst of a dream season, as the Rams already have three more wins than they had in the past two years combined, and have qualified for the state playoffs for the first time in a decade.
“Darien deserved to win the game,” New Canaan head coach Danny Melzer said. “They out-played us, they out-coached us, they out-hustled us — in every phase of the game, they were better than us. They made big shots and we didn’t; they made stops when they needed to get stops, and we didn’t. Sometimes you get out-played and that was the case tonight.”
One game after scoring 44 in a double-overtime win against Ludlowe, Rolapp again had the hot hand for the Wave, scoring a game-high 24 points, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter.
Senior Ryan Darby returned from an injury to pitch in with 11 points and was a force on the boards, while freshman Miles Drake netted seven points.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the win was the Wave’s foul shooting, as they went 17-for-19 on free throws. They connected on their first 15 shots and were perfect until Rolapp missed with 19.5 seconds remaining.
“They played very well tonight and stayed focused,” Bentley said. “It’s a rivalry game, so I knew it was going to be a good game regardless of the score and who won and who lost. New Canaan’s a great team, they’re one of the top teams in the league right now, and Danny Melzer is a great coach.”
For the Rams, juniors Ryan McAleer and Alex Gibbens each scored 10 points, and senior Ben Sarda netted eight.
The Wave was also strong defensively, limiting the Rams to under 30 points until the fourth quarter.
“Defensively, we played a great game — defense and rebounding,” Rolapp said. “Peter Bredahl stepped up big and he got a lot of boards. We all chipped in, got boards, and played defense collectively, so we were able to get stops.”
Darien outscored New Canaan 18-7 in the second quarter to turn a five-point deficit into a 26-20 lead at halftime.
“I told the guys at halftime that all the things we had been successful with all year — sharing the ball, making the extra pass, making extra cuts, setting good screens — we didn’t do any of that,” Melzer said. “We were all trying to do it ourselves.”
The Rams came out flying after halftime, with McAleer scoring five straight points to get New Canaan back to within one point at 26-25.
The Wave responded, however, as Darby scored on a lay-up, Rolapp turned a three-point play, and Drake nailed a shot from beyond the arc as part of a 10-0 run which put Darien ahead 36-25.
“We didn’t panic,” Rolapp said. “It’s a game of runs and they went on a little bit of a run, but we struck right back at them. They cut it to one, and then we just kind of ran away with it and stuck with that lead for the rest of the game.”
The advantage was 11 by the end of the third quarter, and the Rams never got closer than seven the rest of the way.
“We can’t make this a bigger deal than it is,” Melzer said. “It’s one game, it’s one loss, and we’ve got to learn from this. We’ve got to watch the film, we’ve got to work in practice and get better from it. It’s our rival and of course we want to beat Darien, but it’s one loss and we can’t over-react.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Will Rolapp, Darien. One game after putting up 44 against Ludlowe, the senior scored a game-high 24 in the big rivalry match-up. Outside of the scoring, Rolapp was a steadying force on the floor, helping to keep Darien focused.
“We’re just taking it day by day. We’re going into every practice with the same mindset. I tell my seniors all the time: This is your last year, so you’ve got to make it count.” — Darien head coach Charoy Bentley
DARIEN 54, NEW CANAAN 45
Will Rolapp 7 9-11 24, Ryan Darby 2 4-4 11, Miles Drake 1 4-4 7, Cole Anderson 2 0-0 6, Peter Bredahl 2 0-0 4, Karson Drake 2 0-0 4. Totals 14 17-19 54
Ryan McAleer 3 4-8 10, Alex Gibbens 3 2-4 10, Ben Sarda 3 1-2 8, Jack Richardson 2 2-2 7, Stephen Wronski 2 0-0 5, Matt Brand 1 0-3 2, Aaron Fishman 1 0-0 2, Luke Rwambuya 0 1-2 1, Christian Sweeney 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 10-21 45
DARIEN 8 18 12 16 – 54
NEW CANAAN 13 7 7 18 – 45
3-pointers: Darien – Anderson 2, Darby, M. Drake, Rolapp; NC – Gibbens 2, Sarda, Richardson, Wronski
Records: Darien (6-9 overall, 3-9 FCIAC); New Canaan (12-4, 8-4)