NEW CANAAN -- A foul-filled, scrappy game of grit and determination came down to smarts and overall composure in the mind of New Canaan coach Mike Evans. His boys basketball team made the necessary adjustments to battle past a hard-working Wilton squad for a 65-50 win at home on Friday night.
"We have a studious group of guys. We can make adjustments on the fly with these guys and they pick it up right away," said Evans, alluding to his team adjusting to changes in offensive sets, denial of certain opponents, making good use of timeouts to execute on the court, and getting the ball into the hands of good foul shooters in the waning moments.
The Rams took a late second half lead and never looked back, staving off a late Wilton run to hang on and even its record at 1-1. The Warriors dropped to 1-1.
Claude Chandonnet led his team with 23 points. He sank 11 of 12 free throws as the Rams made 19 of 29 as a team. The Warriors got 26 from Matt Shifrin, who hit eight of his nine foul shots. A big difference in the game, however, was the overall team performances from the charity stripe. Wilton made just 14 of 27 free throws.
"It's a game we could have won but you tip your caps off to them. They earned it," Wilton coach Joel Geriak said of the Rams. "They worked their butts off."
Wilton standout Eric Houska managed 17 points, but Evans was pleased with the way Kyle Smith defended him. Because the Warriors don't possess a lot of height, aside from Peter Ciacco, the Rams played a man-to-man defense.
"We have a zone we play a lot of," said Evans, adding that he was more than pleased with his team's defensive effort in this game. "We played the best man to man we've probably ever played."
"We knew we had to stop the drive and kick for 3," said Chandonnet, adding that switching up on ball screens and contesting shots paid off. The Warriors, who rely heavily on their shooting prowess, managed just four shots from downtown and struggled to sink jumpers throughout the night, Geriak noted.
"It's a great win. We knew we could do it from the start and just had to work hard ," Chandonnet said. "We had to keep our composure and do what we know how to do which is play great defense and make our shots."
Down 25-24 late in the second quarter, the Rams went ahead behind a Chandonnet 3-pointer. New Canaan's Beau Santero then blocked a shot and fell awkwardly. He spent the rest of the game on the bench with ice on his ankle. The Rams added to their lead before the break as Tyler Sweeney buried a 3-pointer for a 30-25 lead. The Rams were up 32-25 at the intermission and scored the first two baskets of the second half to open up a 36-25 advantage.
The Warriors, held scoreless in the first three-plus minutes of the second half, called timeout. Shifrin hit a reverse layup to end the New Canaan run, but Jager answered with a 3-pointer at the other end to make it 39-27.
The Warriors chipped away and got to within 44-41 on Shifrin's weave to the basket early in the fourth. The teams traded hoops before clutch baskets by Hagopian and Jager (a 3-pointer) made it 56-46 in favor of the home team with 3 minutes to play.
Down 59-52 the Warriors got to the next five points and trailed by just two after Houska's lay-in with 51 seconds to play. Chandonnet hit four clutch free throws, and Jager made a pair of foul shots down the stretch to put the game away.
"Our kids will always fight," Geriak said.
"He runs a great program," Evans said of his coaching counterpart. "That's a tough team right there."