Greenwich’s boys basketball tops Fairfield Prep

Greenwich High School senior Connor Parkes gets ready to take a foul shot, while Gabe Dunleavy (No. 20) gets ready to box out during the first half of the CIAC Division I Tournament against Fairfield Prep. GHS won. Photo by Rachael Stover

By David Fierro

Leading by only one point at halftime in the first round of the CIAC Division I Tournament, Greenwich High School’s boys basketball team knew it had to significantly raise its level of play against Fairfield Prep in the second half in order to advance to the next round of the state tourney.

Once the second half began, the Cardinals did just that, turning up the intensity and turning back the Jesuits.

Senior point guard Connor Parkes scored 19 of his game-high 25 points during the second half to propel 16th-seeded host Greenwich past No. 17 Fairfield Prep, 60-47, in the opening round of the CIAC Division I Tournament on Friday night. Winners of four straight games, the Cardinals earned a berth in the second round of the Division I Tournament – the Round of 16 – where they will visit No. 1-seeded Notre Dame-West Haven on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

Like every other team in the Division I tourney, except for Greenwich and Fairfield Prep, Notre Dame-West Haven received a first-round bye. Notre Dame-West Haven is undefeated on the season, sporting a spectacular record of 24-0.

“They are a great team, they’re very well coached and they have good players – that’s a good combination,” Greenwich coach Todd Trimmer said of Notre Dame-West Haven. “They’re 24-0 for a reason and they play in a good conference. It will be a great opportunity, especially for my younger guys, to be in that environment, see what we need to look like next year if we’re going to be one of the elite teams. We’re going to go up there, give everything we have and see what happens.”

In Friday’s Division I state tournament opening round matchup against Fairfield Prep, Greenwich was tied with the visitors after the first quarter, 15-15, then entered halftime with a slim 24-23 lead.

“The first half was not good, we were selfish in the first half, we were not trusting the process, we were taking selfish shots,” said Parkes, one of the Cards’ captains. “I took selfish shots and in the second half, mainly the third quarter we came alive. We trusted each other, we ran through our offense, we hit shots, which was big and we got defensive stops.”

Junior guard Matt Maloney scored 17 points, 11 of which came in the second half for GHS, which received five points from junior guard Blake Martin. The second half saw the Cardinals outscore Prep, 36-24. Better ball movement, patience and a more effective defensive effort enabled the Cards to build a double-digit second half advantage on the Jesuits (4-17).

“It was a good win,” Trimmer said. “The first half we were awful, we went against everything that we were trying to do offensively – taking quick shots, taking bad shots. We were playing defense well enough to just still be around. It was probably as animated as I was the entire season at halftime.”

A layup off a steal by junior forward Will Kennedy gave Fairfield Prep a 15-13 lead with 2:23 remaining in the first quarter. Parkes converted a pair of foul shots, evening the score at 15-15 following the opening quarter. Junior forward Ciaran Fitzsimons swished a 3-pointer from the left wing putting Prep on top, 20-17 at the 4:33 mark of the second quarter, but senior guard/co-captain Jonathan Brennan made a 3-point shot, tying the score at 20-20 with 3:17 to go in the second frame.

Oliver Suppo, a junior guard, nailed a shot from beyond the arc for the Cardinals, making it 23-23 in the final minute of the second quarter. Parkes made a free throw with 46.4 seconds left to play in the second period, giving GHS its one-point halftime edge.

After junior Will Kane knotted the score again at 26-26 with a 3-pointer early in the third quarter, Greenwich went on a pivotal run and never looked back. Parkes buried a 3-point shot from the left side, made a layup, then swished another 3-pointer, giving the hosts a 34-26 advantage at the 1:30 mark of the third quarter. Driving down the lane through traffic, Parkes made a dazzling reverse layup just before the buzzer sounded, putting Greenwich ahead, 36-28 after three quarters of action.

“That third quarter, we came out, we responded,” Trimmer said. “We ran our offense, we got good looks, we hit shots. We shoot better when it’s in the flow of our offense. We were moving the ball and got great looks. Our defense stepped it up a notch.”

Parkes said: “For me, the second half was a lot better than the first. Matt Maloney, Sandro (Scott), everybody got involved in the second half and we hit our shots. That’s what got us the win.”

Greenwich, which played solid man-to-man defense the majority of the matchup, steadily built on to its lead in the fourth quarter. Parkes hit four consecutive foul shots and scored off a layup in transition, upping the home team’s edge to 42-31 with 5:38 to go in the final quarter. Brennan made a 3-point shot, then Scott converted three foul shots after being fouled while shooting beyond the 3-point arc, giving GHS a 50-36 cushion at the fourth quarter’s 3:56 mark.

Play was briefly halted after both teams took part in some pushing and shoving with 6:35 left in the fourth quarter. Yet order was restored soon by the officials. Martin’s basket with 2:23 left to play gave Greenwich its biggest lead at 55-37, but Prep cut its deficit to eight points in the final minute-and-a-half, before the Cards sealed the win with strong foul shooting.

Greenwich junior guard Matt Maloney takes a shot from close in during a victory against Prep. Photo by David Fierro

“At the end of the game, that little hiccup when they pressed us, we can’t let that happen,” Parkes noted. “With our game coming up Thursday against Notre Dame-West Haven, we can’t make mistakes like that. We should never have put ourselves in that situation. We’ve dealt with those situations before and we should be ready for that.”

Brennan, Suppo and Scott each scored 3-points for Greenwich, which received an 8-for-8 performance from the foul line from Parkes in the fourth quarter. Parkes shot 12 of 14 from the free throw line for the game.

“Connor, 25 points and he got in his groove,” Trimmer noted. “He got shots in good spots and was finishing. He’s been money in the fourth quarter from the foul line.”

Maloney was sidelined most of the regular season with an injury. Since his return the Cards have been more effective offensively. He scored nine points in the fourth quarter and made two 3-pointers for the game.

“Since he’s been back we’ve been way better since the beginning of the season,” Parkes said. “That shows how big of a factor he is defensively and offensively. Sometimes it takes some pressure off me, because he can bring the ball up. He’s going to be a big part of the program next year too.”

“We are a totally different team with Matt,” Trimmer said. “Matt’s been huge.”

Following a 56-50 loss at home to Norwalk, Greenwich’s record stood at 5-12. Since then the Cardinals have defeated Bassick, Westhill, Fairfield Warde and Fairfield Prep. Now they’re preparing for their toughest challenge of the season in the form of powerful Notre Dame-West Haven.

“That’s a very good team that we’re going to play,” Parkes said. “Our practices need to be perfect. We need to prepare, I know our coach is going to prepare us for this game and then once game day comes up, we have to execute. Of course we have a chance, despite them being undefeated. We’ll be prepared.”

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