Fairfield Ludlowe's boys basketball team shook off a scoreless second quarter and overcame a seven-point halftime deficit to top hot Staples 45-39 on Monday night. A battle between FCIAC foes looking to hang around in conference playoff contention and bolster their state postseason qualification chances went to the Falcons thanks to a 21-point third quarter.
Not a bad turnaround for a team that couldn't put the ball in the rim in the previous eight minutes.
Ludlowe was led by senior captain Mark Malone who scored 12 points, seven of which came in that game-changing third period when the Falcons turned a 22-15 deficit into a 36-28 lead heading into the final period.
Ludlowe coach John Dailey said some halftime adjustments, particularly on the defensive end, sparked the turnaround. The Falcons talked about playing zone defense in the second half, but opted to play man-to-man with the hopes of putting more pressure on the Wreckers -- and it worked. That defensive tactic led to success on the offensive end of the court.
"We couldn't sit back, we had to dictate the game in the second half," Dailey said.
Ludlowe chipped away and eventually pulled ahead. The team never looked back in the final quarter despite a resilient effort by the Wreckers.
The Falcons improved 4-6 overall and 4-4 in FCIAC play. "We're right in the mix in the FCIAC," Dailey said. "We've been playing real well. The guys have been working really hard."
Staples fell to 3-8 overall and 2-7 in the conference. The team needs five wins to qualify for the Class LL tournament.
Ludlowe extended its lead to double digits early in the fourth when Hayes Kelchner (eight points) scored on a put-back. The Wreckers got the next five points, capped by a David Katz stop and pop 3-pointer from the top of the arc. The Ludlowe lead was cut in half with 4:23 to play, but the Falcons padded their advantage.
Down 42-34, Staples again got it back to a two-possession contest on another Katz 3-pointer with 1:28 left.
A missed opportunity for Ludlowe to seal the game at the free throw line opened the door for the Wreckers to have a shot at closing to within one possession, but Katz took a 3-pointer that rimmed out with 15 seconds to go, and the Falcons hit one more foul shot to conclude the scoring.
Dailey said he warned his players before the game not to play at Staples' pace in the beginning of the game. "We didn't want to play at their speed and that's exactly what happened in the first half," said Dailey, adding that the Ludlowe coaches challenged the players at halftime to dictate the flow of the game with that pressuring defense.
Staples coach Colin Devine thought both teams seemed to try to push the tempo but noted that finishing opportunities proved to be a struggle for his group. "I think we just lacked offensive execution in the second half," Devine said. "We didn't connect on the shots."
The Staples coach was pleased that his team didn't give up.
"We definitely had an opportunity there," Devine said of the comeback attempt.
So what will it take to get back on the winning track?
"I just think five guys playing good basketball at the same time, at both ends of the floor," Devine said.