The championship game of the FAA Basketball Tournament between Brunswick School and St. Luke’s School, saw the Bruins score the matchup’s first 11 points and 14 of the first 16, but then came the Storm.
Like their school’s nickname, the St. Luke’s Storm stormed back and though the Bruins made the game’s first opening statement, the Storm had the final say on this day.
Finishing the first half with the momentum, second-seeded St. Luke’s used timely perimeter shooting and a stellar defensive effort to post a 47-39 victory in the FAA final at Brunswick’s crowded Dann Gymnasium Saturday evening.
Senior guard Ryan Frank scored a team-high 14 points, senior forward Aren Cummings added 12 points and senior guard Sean Clemons contributed 11 for the Storm, who overcame early deficits of 11-0, 14-2 and 17-6, to capture the FAA championship trophy.
“The main thing is the guys stayed with the game plan,” St. Luke’s coach Tony Newsom said. “Sometimes when you get down by that many points, you get away from it. But they just stayed with it and kept battling. Brunswick is a terrific basketball team, Steve (Juricek) does a great job and both teams battled today.”
Though points came pretty quickly for the Bruins the first seven minutes of the opening half, the game turned into a defensive battle, with both squads having to work especially hard to get baskets thereafter.
“It was definitely a defensive battle from start to finish,” Brunswick coach Steve Juricek said. “We came out strong, then they battled back. It’s a game of runs and they ended up going on a few more runs than we did today.”
Junior 6-foot-10 center Jon Sigurddson scored a game-high 15 points, while senior guard Tristan Joseph and junior backcourt mate Malik Samms tallied nine points apiece for the top-seeded Bruins (11-9, 8-2 FAA). Saturday’s showdown marked the third meeting of the season between the Storm and the Bruins, with the rivals splitting the first two regular season games. It was also the final game of the season for both teams.
The atmosphere was electric, as both teams packed plenty of fans into Brunswick’s Dann Gymnasium. The Bruins’ student section and fans had more to cheer about during the first part of the opening half, as their team bolted out to a double-digit lead.
Layups by Sigurddson and Samms and a 3-pointer from sophomore power forward Matty Augustine put the Bruins on top, 7-0 1:40 into the first half. Sigurddson scored in the low post, then Joseph scored in transition and made a 3-pointer, giving the home team a 14-2 advantage.
St. Luke’s methodically chipped away at Brunswick’s lead though, closing to within 17-10 on a strong low post move by Cummings and 17-15 on Frank’s 3-pointer from the right side with just over six minutes to go in the first half. The visitors took a 20-17 advantage on Frank’s 3-pointer from the left wing area and went into halftime ahead, 23-21, when Frank buried a shot from beyond the arc from the left corner.
“It’s a credit to our guys,” Newsom said. “They were all just saying, ‘let’s stay with it,’ and they didn’t panic. Sometimes in games like this if you panic, it can get away from you very quickly.”
Brunswick, which advanced to the tournament’s title tilt by defeating fourth-seeded Greenwich Country Day School, played both a 2-3 zone and man-to-man defense, while the Storm came out playing man-to-man, but switched to a zone after the Bruins built an early double-digit lead. The zone was effective for St. Luke’s, as it cut down on Brunswick’s penetration and slowed down their offensive pace.
“The zone was definitely different,” Sigurddson said. “We tried bringing me and Matty to the foul line so we can get some work in there. It definitely was an adjustment.”
Said Newsom: “The zone really helped us. It slowed them down a little bit. They were less aggressive in their cuts, so that really helped us. The zone keeps more bodies in the paint and also the driving lanes are a little bit less, because you are in that zone.”
After Sigurddson tied the game at 23-23 with a reverse layup with 13:48 left in the second half, the Storm took a 28-23 edge behind a pair of foul shots from Cummings and a 3-pointer by Frank.
An 11-2 burst sparked by four points from Sigurddson, a 3-pointer from Augustine and a basket by Samms, gave Bruins a 34-30 edge and the momentum with 7:57 remaining, prompting a St. Luke’s timeout.
St. Luke’s then embarked on an 11-0 spurt, with junior Ethan Crawford (8 points) scoring four key points and Clemons tallying five, including a shot from beyond the arc from the right wing that gave his team a 41-34 advantage with 3:28 remaining. The victors limited the Bruins to five points the final 7:57 of action.
Senior Fritz Laibe contributed two points in the winning effort, while Augustine had six points for Brunswick, which received solid defensive play from senior guard Charlie Johnson and junior forward Luke Michalik.
“There’s no denying, we played a really good team today and they showed it,” Johnson said. “We played them close, it was a super competitive game, but at the end of the day, basketball is a game of runs and they came out on top.”
Johnson sees the Bruins improve upon the success they experienced this year, next winter.
“I’m really looking forward to what my teammates are going to be able to do next year and seeing them keep building the program,” Johnson said. “This team is a bunch of fighters. There are 14 players in that locker room that have immense pride and it shows. I absolutely want to make it to as many games as possible. If I can’t, I will be watching on my computer every single time I can.”
Both teams battled through adverse times this season. The Bruins played their way through several injuries, one of which involved one of their leading scorers. Junior 6-7 forward Wyatt Triestman suffered an ankle injury just past the midway point of the season and was sidelined for the final portion of the Bruins’ campaign. Meanwhile, St. Luke’s rebounded from some tough losses/setbacks throughout the season.
“We faced adversity all season and we bounced back,” Juricek said. “This is another dose of adversity that we’re going to overcome and we’ll come back stronger next year.”
Said Newsom: “We’ve had some ups-and-downs, but I talked to our guys about responding every day and it’s a credit to them and their character that they kept responding the whole year. For us to get a championship at the end, I’m so proud of them, because they deserve it.”
With the majority of its roster returning next season, Brunswick is already looking forward to its 2022-2023 campaign.
“The future is great, the culture is in place,” Juricek said. “Credit to this year’s seniors and last year’s seniors for laying the groundwork for that.”
“I’m so excited for next year, we worked so hard for this,” Sigurddson said. “I’m very excited for the future, though it’s going to hurt missing Tristan, Cappy (senior Henry Caponiti) on the bench cheering us on and Charlie, who has been one of our leaders for years.”