EAST HAVEN >> The chance was there for the Wilbur Cross boys basketball team to hand Fairfield Prep its first loss Monday night.
The Governors’ game plan had worked: Prep center Paschal Chukwu fouled out with 5 minutes, 14 seconds left to play. The Jesuits’ 7-foot-2 inside presence was gone.
While the Governors did earn a pair of one-point leads, they found out what all of Prep’s other opponents already know: the Jesuits have plenty of other answers on offense and kids who find a way to make big plays at the most opportune times.
Top-ranked Prep scored six straight points late in the fourth, then made enough free throws down the stretch to beat No. 4 Wilbur Cross 75-71 in the SCC tournament semifinals at East Haven High.
“The sign of a decent program is when you have guys get knocked out of a game, you have different guys step up,” Prep coach Leo Redgate said. “When the going gets tough, we seem to pull them out.”
So it will be a rematch Wednesday night for the SCC championship. Standing in the way for the Jesuits’ first league title is defending champion Hillhouse, the No. 3 seed, which beat Prep in overtime last year.
“We want it so bad this year,” said Prep guard Tom Nolan, who had a game-high 26 points. “We want that championship. We want that undefeated record. We want it all, and that’s why we are so determined to not lose a game. … Hillhouse is a great team. I expected they would be back in the championship (final) this year, and we are ready for them, and I’m sure they are ready for us, too.”
Nolan had a 10-point run of his own in the third quarter and made some key free throws down the stretch. But his biggest play was not a basket or a free throw: it was a steal at midcourt, when Cross, down 74-71, was attempting to set up for the final play to possibly send the game into overtime.
Cross was out of timeouts and guard Josh Fleming (21 points) was trapped at midcourt. Nolan came up with the steal and called Prep’s last timeout with 10.9 seconds left.
Prep was then able to run some clock before Nolan was fouled with 5.5 seconds left. He made 1 of 2 free throws to seal the victory for the Jesuits (22-0).
Freshman Pat Harding, Chukwu’s replacement, made a baseline jumper to put Prep up for good, 64-62, with 2:27 left. Then he made a steal.
Then came the play the Governors won’t soon forget. Jaylin Fuller was called for a flagrant foul on Nolan with 1:24 left. Nolan made one free throw, but Prep retained possession due to the call. With Prep in the double-bonus, the Jesuits were able to dribble away some valuable seconds off the clock before Keith Pettway was fouled.
“From my view, (Fuller) hit the ball.” Cross coach Kevin Walton said. “There was nothing malicious about it. It shouldn’t have been a (flagrant) foul. (Fuller) actually had his hand on the ball. Just because the kid hits the ground hard doesn’t mean it’s an intentional foul.
“The referee (Brad Chernovetz) never gave me an explanation. I called for (Chernovetz) to come over five times and he never came over. That’s not the reason we lost the game. We shot 8 of 21 from the line. But that was a huge call.”
Pettway made a free throw, then secured the offensive rebound before getting fouled again. He made two more free throws to put Prep up 68-62 with 57.5 seconds left.
Chan Williams-Bey scored nine of his 24 points in less than 25 seconds to keep Cross in the game before Nolan’s final heroics.
“If we hit half the free throws we missed we are playing Hillhouse for the championship,” Walton said.
FAIRFIELD PREP 75, WILBUR CROSS 71
(at East Haven)
Wilbur Cross 14 17 18 22 – 71
Fairfield Prep 17 12 26 20 – 75
WILBUR CROSS (71)
Anthony Miller 0 0-0 0, Joshua Fleming 8 0-0 21, Chan Williams-Bey 9 4-7 24, Robert Durant 6 1-9 13, Jaylin Fuller 1 0-1 2, DAndre Skinner 1 2-2 4, Jaelin Robinson 3 1-2 7. Totals: 28 8-21 71
FAIRFIELD PREP (75)
Keith Pettway 3 13-15 19, Thomas Nolan 8 7-9 26, Ray Featherston 0 0-0 0, Dave Zielinski 0 0-0 0, Ryan Foley 5 1-3 13, Patrick Harding 1 2-2 4, Joe DiGennaro 0 2-2 2, Paschal Chukwu 3 5-10 11. Totals: 20 30-41 75
3-point goals: Wilbur Cross 7 ( Fleming 5, Williams-Bey 2); Fairfield Prep 5 (Nolan 3, Foley 2); Fouled out: Wilbur Cross (Robinson, Fuller); Fairfield Prep (Zielinski, Chukwu); Records: Wilbur Cross 16-6; Fairfield Prep 22-0
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