By Bill Bloxsom
What began as a battle between two of the Southern Connecticut Conference’s most talented big man turned into a defensive game, when the Foran High boys basketball team opened its season with Fairfield Prep in an interdivisional matchup in the Edna Fraser Gymnasium on Wednesday night.
“Terry Tarpey (now at William & Mary) was one of a kind and absolutely had star power. This year they attack in different ways and having a seven-footer inside changes a lot of things you wanted to do,” Foran coach Tim Swaller said after the Lions lost a 22-20 halftime lead and a 45-34 decision to the Jesuits.
“One of our keys was to control the tempo and in the first half I thought we did that. At 22-20 we were holding up the game plan.”
Foran took a 9-6 lead after a first period that highlighted the skills of its 6-7 senior center Austin Woods, who finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots, against Prep’s 7-1 junior center Paschal Chukwa.
Kevin Green assisted on a pair of hoops by Woods, who attacked the Prep tall frontcourt that included Chukwa and the 6-4 Tim Butala, an All-Division returnee.
Casey McCone found Woods for another hoop, as Foran was in an attack mode through the first two periods.
Sean Deegan nailed a 3-pointer from the corner, with Matthew Gomes earning the assist with dribble penetration to close the frame.
Prep won an entertaining second stanza, 14-13, with David Zielinski and Rich Sekerak knocking down 3-pointers and Butala scoring three baskets, including a jam off a missed shot.
Woods showed off his game with a 3-pointer from out deep, and then snuck inside for a two-handed dunk to take back the lead at 18-17.
Rob Notholt scored on a run-out assist from Green and McCone canned two free throws late to break a tie and give Foran a two-point lead at the half.
Chukwa, a transfer from Trinity Catholic, unveiled a point-producing ability to go with his established shot-blocking, rebound-grabbing resume, but it was when coach Leo Redgate’s team unleashed its defense that the contest turned in the Jesuits’ favor.
“We call it organized chaos,” Redgate said. “We play our best when we are very aggressive and in attack mode.”
Prep limited Foran to only four field goals and 14 total points in the second half.
Chukwa scored 11 of his 17 points in the third quarter, when Prep went on a 14-7 run.
He scored on a reverse layup after a rebound, secured one of his four dunks on a high-low pass from Butala, and after a putback basket, notched a three-point play and two foul shots.
“I designed some plays for him,” said Redgate, who indicated he didn’t want Chukwa to settle for blocking shots, rebounding, and scoring on flat-footed putbacks. “I want him to play above the rim and felt the key was motivation, and Paschal is really running the floor for us.”
Chukwa, who had 10 rebounds and seven blocked shots, jumped a pass on the wing to open the third quarter, was fouled in transition, and canned one of his five made free throws in seven attempts.
Keith Pettway nailed a foul-line jumper to complete a 7-0 run that saw Foran held scoreless for 3:40.
Prep’s Thomas Nolan answered Green’s skein-ending free throw with a breakaway basket off a Butala outlet and Pettway then found Butala for a transition hoop to make it 43-30 midway through the final frame.
“In the second half, I thought we were a little passive in our approach and in a couple-minute stretch we had a few turnovers and their lead went to nine,” Swaller said.
“Except for our three seniors (Woods, Green and McCone) no one played varsity as they all played jayvee as sophomores.
“If we play like we did tonight in the first half for 32 minutes, we’ll be in good shape.”
Foran began a three-game road trip with a 47-40 win over North Haven on Friday.
The Lions went on a 16-2 run in the third quarter to extend its lead to 37-24.
Green scored 16 points, including a 9-for-13 effort from the foul line, to lead the Lions (1-1). Woods scored 12 points, Nick Weissauer six and Luke Hazard five.
By Bill Bloxsom