TRUMBULL -- The St. Joseph boys basketball team's two-year run as Class LL champion came crashing to an end Wednesday night.
A last-second runner by Xavier's Joe Carbone left the Cadets stunned and the Falcons celebrating a 62-60 second-round victory -- the first win by a visitor on the Montelli Court in three years.
"This one definitely stings. It hurts a lot," first-year St. Joseph coach Chris Watts said. "I've been a part of some losses here as an assistant and as a player. When you're the head coach, I'd like to take the blame just a little bit more."
St. Joseph, ranked as high as No. 3 in the state poll for much of the year, finishes its season with back-to-back losses. The third-seeded Cadets lost in the FCIAC semifinals to Central last week and end their season 20-3.
"Losing at home and it being our seniors' last game is really hard," said Quincy McKnight, who led St. Joseph with 20 points.
A year ago St. Joseph was also upset in the FCIAC playoffs by Central only to cut down the nets a few weeks later at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Early on, this appeared to be a repeat performance of the Cadets' first game in last year's Class LL tournament.
After trailing briefly by seven points in the first quarter, St. Joseph broke out of its early slump with a 20-0 run between the first and second quarters, going ahead 25-12 on a basket by Erick Langston with 4:50 left in the half.
Xavier, however, responded and never went away. To their credit the No. 19 Falcons -- thanks to their excellent outside shooting and the all-around play of sophomore Elijah Pemberton (game-high 21 points) -- kept chipping away.
"It was our own errors in the first half," said Xavier coach Michael Kohs, whose team suspended two players indefinitely earlier in the day, including a starter. "I said at halftime, `Fellas, they're not better than us.'"
St. Joseph never looked fully comfortable against Xavier's 1-3-1 and match-up zones -- a similar defense to what Central used in the FCIAC semifinals. Making matters worse, McKnight picked up his fourth foul with 1:27 left in the third quarter on a charging call.
By the time he was back in the game with 6:05 to go in the fourth, Xavier had pulled to within 50-46 on a put-back by Carbone.
St. Joseph appeared to have righted the ship on Jon Dzurenda's steal at midcourt and layup, going ahead 54-49.
Up five, the Cadets remained sloppy, turning it over repeatedly. It allowed Xavier to answer with a 7-0 run capped by a layup by James Sullivan that put the Falcons ahead 55-54 -- their first lead since early in the first quarter.
Pemberton -- who left the game briefly after running into St. Joseph's hulking 6-foot-5 center Steve Hashemi -- nailed a 3-pointer with 1:37 left to make it 58-56. McKnight tied it with a pair of free throws.
"We couldn't put the ball in the basket, really," McKnight said. "It's hard for us. Everybody on the team is basically a straight scorer and when you can't get the ball in the basket, it's frustrating, and we got frustrated tonight."
Again Pemberton took control, this time hitting a floater in the lane to move Xavier into the lead with 35 seconds to go.
St. Joseph tied it at 60 on Dzurenda's lay-up in traffic, setting the stage for Xavier's game-winner.
The Falcons inbounded with nine seconds left and got it to Pemberton near midcourt, where he drew a double-team. Carbone received the pass on the left side and made his off-balance shot with 3.2 left on the clock, triggering a celebration by the visiting fans on the court.
"I got it, spun and made a lucky shot," Carbone said. "That was about it."
St. Joseph watched Xavier defeat Amity in its first round game. Watts felt even with an eight-day layoff between games, his team was prepared and ready to go.
"We were confident," Watts said. "The kids were confident, they played hard. When they play hard, they're confident. The schemes we had set up definitely was a recipe for a win, but we fell short."
Class LL second round
Lucas Hammas 2 0-0 5 Thomas Jackson 3 0-0 7 Caleb Luton 0 0-0 0 James Sullivan 7 0-0 16 Elijiah Pemberton 8 4-5 21 Joe MacCormack 0 0-0 0 Joe Carbone 2 1-2 5 Tim Boyle 4 0-0 8 Totals: 26 5-7 62
ST. JOSEPH (20-3)
Jake Pelletier 3 0-0 8 Jon Dzurenda 7 3-3 17 Quincy McKnight 8 2-2 20 Denzel Moscova 0 0-0 0 Raekwon Reid 0-0 5 Erick Langston 3 1-2 8 Rich Kelly 0 0-0 0 Steve Hashemi 1 0-0 2 Totals: 24 6-7 60
XAVIER 12 14 16 20--62
ST. JOSEPH 15 20 13 12--60
3-pointers: X--Sullivan 2, Pemberton, Jackson, Hammas; SJ--Pelletier 2, McKnight 2, Reid, Langston
Read about the latest developments in the state high school boys basketball tournament on our blog: http://blog.ctnews.com/ctbb/