GREENWICH — Trailing by double digits for the majority of its game against Greenwich didn’t cause the St. Joseph boys basketball team to panic. Instead, the Cadets followed the lead of one of their youngest guards and kept their poise.
Keeping calm under pressure, St. Joseph sophomore guard Jason James had the ball in his hands with the final seconds ticking away and the Cadets down by one point. Driving hard to the basket, he released a floater in the lane and scored with 1.8 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
James’ dramatic basket gave St. Joseph an exciting 52-51 comeback win over Greenwich on Friday night in an FCIAC matchup.
“I knew Greenwich was a great defensive team, so I knew I had to take my time,” said James, who drove to the middle of the lane for the basket. “Once I got past my guy I saw I had to get the bucket, so I tried to float it.”
The St. Joseph guard scored 12 points, none bigger than his final two, which raised his squad’s record to 5-2.
“We said we are going to give it to him,” St. Joseph coach Kevin Wielk said of James. “We had guys rising up and shooting it, in case they stopped him. He is only a sophomore, but all the experience of playing on varsity last year paid off for him.”
Senior guard Paul Fabbri paced the Cadets offensively, especially throughout. Fabbri scored a game-high 23 points, 16 of which came during the second half.
“He makes us go offensively and defensively,” Wielk said of Fabbri.
As thrilling as the comeback victory was for St. Joseph, thats how disappointing the defeat was for Greenwich. The Cardinals (2-6) held a 16-9 lead after the first quarter, entered halftime with a 32-24 advantage and were up, 42-36 after three quarters.
Senior guard Max Steinman scored 11 points, junior forward Mason Muir had 13 points and senior guard Manny Cuellar added nine points for the Cardinals.
“Give them credit for hanging in there and staying in striking distance,” GHS coach Chris Lovermi said of St. Joseph. “We stabilized things after we had trouble scoring at the end of the first half. Very honestly, I believe we led that game for 31 minutes.”
Following James’ go-ahead basket with 1.8 seconds to play, the Cardinals failed to get a desperation heave toward the hoop before time expired.
— Greenwich Time Spts (@GreenwichSports) January 18, 2020
A pair of layups from Steinman gave GHS leads of 47-43 and 49-46 with 1:04 left in the final quarter. The Cadets closed to within 49-48 when Fabbri swished two free throws with under a minute remaining.
Senior forward Jayden Solomon’s layup off a pressbreaker put the Cards on top, 51-48 with 50 seconds left. Yet St. Joseph made two more free throws, making it a one-point game again at the 27 second mark of the final quarter.
“There were a half dozen plays in the last three minutes and if we make one of them we win the game,” Lovermi said. “We made none of them. We’re competing, it just comes down to executing and finishing the game.”
Forward Matthew Pilc’s layup gave the home team a 30-14 advantage with 3:25 to go in the second quarter, but the Cadets went on a pivotal 10-0 run to close to within 30-24. James keyed the spurt with seven points, while guard Justin Russo added a basket for the victors. Muir led the Cards with seven first-quarter points.
“We just had to get gritty and put a couple of stops together and that’s what we were able to do,” James said. We stuck togther and got through it. Tonight, we were missing our starting center (Will Diamantis), so everyone had to step up.”
Guard Tommy Shannon contributed eight points for St. Joseph, which like Greenwich, played man-to-man defense most of the game.
“I’m happy with our defense, I’m happy with the press,” Wielk said. “We have some guys that are hurt, but we are working on our press every day and we are improving.”
Greenwich, which played without senior guard Christopher Genaro, one of its leading scorers, received nine points from senior guard Daniel Lustosa.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Fabbri excelled at driving to the basket, converting layups and drawing fouls. He shot 8 of 10 from the foul line for the Cadets, who extended their winning streak to three games.
James helped St. Joseph work its way back into the game, scoring 10 of his 12 points in the second quarter.
“We were in the Stamford game (58-50 loss), it was a really close game and it was the same type of thing here, we have to finish,” Steinman said. “We had a run at the beginning of the game and they had a run in the second quarter, which was a key sequence. As much as it is a tough loss, I saw a lot of great things from everyone.”
RECOGNIZING THE OFFICIALS
This week marked ‘Officials Appreciation Week.’ A statement was read prior to the game, paying tribute to officials in the state.
“We support the ideals of respect, hard work, and giving your best that are exemplified through our officials. We want to express appreciation to them and say that we value their efforts. While we value our officials every day, Officials Appreciation Week allows for the opportunity to publicly recognize the hard work of Connecticut High School officials, who sacrifice personal time with their families to provide a competitive and safe environment for student-athletes.”