STAMFORD — One can never put a high enough price on the value of bragging rights when boys basketball intracity rivals get together.
The capacity crowd at Westhill’s J. Walter Kennedy Athletic Center Saturday was treated to 32 minutes of roller-coaster hoop action as Stamford rallied to conquer Westhill, 57-51 in the second annual MLK Classic sponsored by the Stamford branch of the NAACP.
Stamford fashioned a 20-5 surge over eight minutes spanning the third and fourth quarters to take the lead for good at 52-49 with 4:40 to go.
Westhill would get to 52-51 with 2:40 left. But Stamford’s defense kept the Vikings at bay.
“This was a very big win for us. Playing before this large crowd created an intense atmosphere,” said Stamford senior guard Jay Jaudon. “We worked hard for this and it feels good. Yes, we are going to let Westhill know about this until we meet again next year.”
Westhill (4-8, 2-6 FCIAC) started out on fire as the Vikings led 18-7 after one quarter and 20-11 just one minute into the second period and 36-27 at halftime.
With seniors Jack Schlachtenhaufen, Tim McKeithen and junior Greyson Miller available, Westhill had a legitimate 10-man rotation to mix and match with.
Ben Pennella scored 13 of his game-high 19 points before intermission for the Vikings as Stamford fought through foul trouble.
But the contest changed inexorably in the Black Knights’ favor after a Pennella 3-pointer gave Westhill a 44-32 edge with 5:00 left in the third quarter.
Stamford’s defense picked up, Damani Taylor nailed a pair of 3-pointers and SHS surged to its 52-49 edge.
“Our defense was the key,” SHS’ Jaudon said. “We fought for and won a lot of loose balls.”
“Stamford’s defense changed. But we stopped attacking the basket,” said Westhill’s veteran coach Howard White. “We settled for jump shots. We committed too many turnovers down the stretch. We stopped doing what was successful in building our leads.”
Westhill still had hope when SHS’ Jaden Bell (17 points) fouled out with 3:21 to go. But Westhill did not score in the final 2:40.
It was Jaudon (five of six free throws in final minute; 11 of 15 overall) who iced it for Stamford (8-5, 5-4 FCIAC, winners of five of its last six contests).
“I was concerned when Jaden (Bell) fouled out,” said Jaudon (17 points). “Making free throws comes natural to me. I’m able to block everything out and focus on the rim. The ball comes off my hands very smooth.”
Stamford, ranked No. 17 in Division II in the state, won its second straight MLK Classic title and meets Trinity Catholic on Feb. 17 for the Stamford City Boys Basketball crown.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Stamford’s Jay Jaudon: The senior cashed in 11 of 15 free throws including five of six in the final minute to secure the victory.
“The game plan was to utilize our depth,” Westhill coach White said. “But we aren’t finishing games. We’ve got to keep fighting. We have to learn how to finish down the stretch.”