Greenwich Boys’ Basketball Falls to Xavier in CIAC Opener
By Paul Silverfarb
Although the Greenwich High School boys’ basketball team was able to erase a double-digit lead in the second half and had several opportunities to regain the lead, they were unable to break through against Xavier High School.
In the opening round of the CIAC Division II tournament at the GHS gymnasium, the Cardinals weren’t able to get a friendly roll during several shots at taking the lead down the stretch and fell to the Falcons 56-48.
“I do think we came out and pounded the ball into Oliver [Milledge] early on,” Greenwich head coach Chris Lovermi said. “They adjusted and their defense kind of collapsed on him. We really didn’t make enough outside shots to kind of open up their defense. We felt like, in a way, we were falling into Xavier’s trap. They were kind of putting us to sleep so to speak. The kids fought, but they could get over the hump. Give Xavier credit. They made some big shots when they needed to.”
For Big Red, Milledge led the team with 18 points. Chris Genaro added 14 points and knocked down two three-pointers. Not to be outdone was Chris Mark, who finished with seven points.
“I had a lot of fun and I’m sure everybody else on this team had a lot of fun and we are really starting to develop, not only as individuals but as a program,” Milledge said. “I think we are heading in the right direction. We are turning things around and I think these underclassmen are really going to make a statement next year.”
For Xavier, the duo of KJ Grisham and Stephen Kohs paced the squad with 18 points each. Marcus Williams added six points in the winning effort.
“We played well,” said Xavier head coach Michael Kohs. “At times we struggled this year offensively and I thought tonight that it was our best offensive game through the season in terms of consistency from start to finish. We got off to a great start. We knew they were going to pound the ball to Milledge, so we did a lot of work in the past week in defending him. I thought we did a decent job. While we did an excellent job defensively, the key was to get our offensive execution.”
Early on it was Greenwich taking the early lead. A layup in the paint by Milledge, followed by a Genaro three-pointer from the top of the key and an offensive rebound and putback gave the Cards a quick 7-2 lead. However the duo of Stephen Kohs and Grisham got going and scored 10 of the team’s first 12 points and helped knot the score at 18-18 to start the second quarter.
Although the Falcons built a seven-point lead midway through the second quarter and extended it to a 12-point lead with 4:18 to play in the third, Greenwich didn’t back down.
Milledge got the ball rolling with a layup in the paint. After Xavier answered with an Andrew Brown jumper, Big Red went back to work. Luis Mercado went 1-for-2 from the free throw ling and Milledge grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on the putback.
With the score 40-31, Dan Arnold gained possession of the ball off a Genaro steal and netted the layup. Genaro called his own number on his next steal and connected on the layup to cut the deficit to 40-35. With 1:15 to play in the third, Milledge was fouled going for the layup and connected on the shot. He also connected on the free throw and just like that Xavier’s 12-point lead was only two, 40-38.
Although Xavier’s Kohs stopped the bleeding with a three-pointer to close out the quarter, Genaro and Mark hit back-t-back running layups in the paint to trim the deficit to 43-42 with 5:09 to play.
“Everybody kind of upped the intensity,” said Gavin Muir. “We knew our season was on the line and just went on full-court press. We started diving on loose balls and really getting after it. But unfortunately we were unable to come up with the win.”
With the loss, Greenwich ended its season 12-9 overall.
“It’s tough to lose your last game but every team loses their last game except the eventual champion in your division,” Lovermi said. “I could not be more proud of this group of kids. I could not be more proud of our seniors. To come off a season like we did last year, with so much uncertainty, and for this group to pull it together and go through a lot of adversity throughout the season is amazing. To actually get a home game in the CIAC state tournament, I could not be more proud of this group.”
And it’s that state tournament game played on Hillside Road that meant so much to the team and coaching staff. After a season where Big Red didn’t have a home game until midway through the season due to a pipe burst in the Performance Arts Center and a team that was plagued with injuries, Greenwich was hovering around the .500 mark. However, pulling it together in the end by winning its final three games, finishing with 12 wins and hosting a home playoff game for the first time in five seasons was a solid accomplishment.
“It’s a great feeling,” Lovermi said. “A home game in the state tournament really signifies all the hard work we have done throughout the year. To be honest, in the middle of the season we were kind of wondering if we were going to get eight wins to get to the state tournament. And to get 12 and get state game is a great feeling.”