After a 34-point first half, the Staples boys basketball team scored only five points the first 14 minutes of the second half and saw its double-digit halftime lead cut to four against a surging Greenwich squad Tuesday evening.
Though the shots weren’t falling for the Wreckers in the second half, Caleb Tobias swished a clutch 3-pointer with 2:05 remaining in the second half – a shot providing much-needed breathing room for the visitors from Westport.
Tobias’ shot from beyond the arc increased the lead to seven points for Staples, which made key free throws down the stretch on its way to registering a workmanlike 49-35 victory over host Greenwich in the season-opener for both teams.
Senior forward Lucas Basich, who was the focus of the Cardinals’ defense, scored a game-high 15 points for Staples, which led 34-24 at halftime and 19-10 following the first quarter. Junior guard Derek Sale added 12 points and Tobias chipped in with 10 points for the Wreckers, who converted five of their seven 3-pointers in the first quarter.
Greenwich was paced by senior forward Dan Arnold’s 14 points. Junior guard James Pilc scored 13 points and made the Cardinals’ lone 3-pointer.
“Our effort was there,” Greenwich first-year coach Todd Trimmer said. “At halftime, our focus was to really get after it on defense and kick it up a notch. We had a good stretch where our intensity level was there and it showed.”
The Cardinals closed to with 39-35 with just over two minutes remaining, after trimming Staples’ lead to 37-32 at the 4:09 mark of the final quarter.
“We played real hard on the defensive end, but we didn’t rebound well and we didn’t finish some plays,” Staples coach Colin Devine said. “But down the stretch we made the plays and we grinded out a team victory and I’m proud of the boys. We lose this game two years ago. The foundation was set by last year’s team. We had to find a way to win a basketball game and we did.”
Trailing 37-26, Greenwich went on a 6-0 run to close to within 37-32 midway through the fourth quarter. Arnold banked home a shot off a runner in lane, scored on a layup off a steal and earned two more points off a putback, trimming the Wreckers’ lead to five. Pilc’s layup with 2:16 to go in the fourth quarter brought the Cardinals to within 39-35. On the ensuing possession, Tobias made a 3-pointer from the left side, making it 42-35 with 2:05 left. With Greenwich in catch-up mode and needing to foul, Basich sunk four foul shots down the stretch to seal Staples’ win.
“It’s a tough loss, but we battled,” Trimmer said.
Though Staples couldn’t buy a shot for most of the second half, it was efficient from the perimeter in the opening half – especially from 3-point range. Fifteen of the Wreckers’ 19 first-quarter points were the result of 3-pointers, as they sank five shots from beyond the arc. Basich and Derek Sale each made a pair of 3-pointers to spark Staples’ impressive first quarter. Greenwich and Staples each played an aggressive man-to-man defense, with the Cardinals’ focusing theirs on limiting Basich’s shot opportunities.
“We were playing a deny-1 on Lucas and we got confused on the baseline a little bit in the first half,” Trimmer said. “They knocked down some open shots in the first half.”
That wasn’t the case for either team in the third quarter. Staples was limited to three points in the third quarter, but Greenwich didn’t capitalize, as it scored just four.
“I thought we had good energy, our bench guys were into the game,” Pilc said. “Our defense was pretty good, we just have to execute on offense and make our shots.”
The game certainly had a different feel to it. Following the CIAC’s suggestion that no spectators be allowed at games due to safety precautions involving the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no crowd at the game. Every player, coach and official wore a mask and there were mask breaks at the four-minute mark of each quarter.
“It’s definitely tough playing with masks,” Pilc said. “It’s harder to get our energy. But the mask breaks helped, as well as taking more timeouts.”
Added Arnold: “We have gotten used to wearing masks and the mask breaks are helpful. I’m just happy to be playing again, whether it’s wearing a mask or not.”
Like Greenwich, Staples’ defensive play was sound throughout.
“Our defense traveled tonight, our offense did not in the second half and we have to figure that out as coaches,” Devine said. “They did real good job of denying Lucas and as a basketball coach I have to make sure Lucas gets some good shots in the second half.”
Trimmer extracted several positive aspects from the game from his squad.
“We are scrappy and we have a lot of athleticism,” Trimmer said. “We have to get each other in spots where we can score and we need to move the ball more. With experience, we’ll be able to maintain that better.”
Junior 6-foot-5 forward Chason Barber scored six points and effectively crashed the backboards on both ends of the court for Greenwich. Senior A.J. Barber added two points for the Cardinals, who travel to New Canaan on Friday.
“Defensively we felt really good,” Arnold said. “Offensively, the shots didn’t fall. We have a lot to look forward to. The future is bright we have just played one game and we have 11 more to look forward to. I believe we’re one of the more athletic teams in the FCIAC. Just hitting our shots was our struggle today.”