DIVISION II BOYS BASKETBALL Xavier holds off Greenwich
GREENWICH — Eliminated from the state basketball tournament in the first round the past five seasons, Xavier got past its opening-game obstacle Tuesday night.
And the Falcons used an efficient offensive display to soar into the next round.
Behind impressive shooting from the perimeter and a balanced scoring attack, 19th-seeded Xavier registered a hard-fought 56-48 win over 14th-seeded Greenwich in the first round of the CIAC Division II boys basketball tournament before a big crowd at Greenwich High School.
The Falcons (11-10) advanced to Wednesday’s Round of 16, where it will face third-seeded host Wilton. The Cardinals, who displayed significant improvement this season, ended its 2018-2019 campaign with a record of 12-9.
Xavier, which lost close games to Fairfield Warde in the first round of the state tournament the past two seasons, before being edged by Ridgefield in the opening round in 2016 and losing West Haven and to East Hartford in 2015 and 2014, turned its fortunes around Tuesday. It took contributions from numerous players to do so.
Junior guard Stephen Kohs scored 18 points, including two 3-pointers, while junior guard Kareem Grisham totaled 18 points and made three shots beyond the arc for Xavier.
“It feels good, we haven’t made it the past the first round in a few years,” Grisham said.
Added Kohs: “It was a really big game. We wanted to win for our seniors and move on to the next round.”
Sophomore guard Marcus Williams contributed six points for the Falcons, who held a seven-point halftime lead, before building their advantage to 11 points late in the third quarter.
“We wanted to make sure we executed our plays and set good screens,” Williams said. “We did our best to get to the basket.”
Greenwich received 18 points from senior center Oliver Milledge, 11 of which came in the second half. The Cardinals were also paced by 14 points from junior guard Chris Genaro and seven from senior forward Chris Mark. Tuesday marked Greenwich’s first state playoff game at home in five seasons.
“It’s tough to lose your last game, but every team loses their last game, except the eventual champion of the division,” said GHS coach Chris Lovermi, who concluded his first season at the helm. “I could not be more proud of this group of kids, I could not be more proud of our group of seniors, after coming off a season we had last year, with so much uncertainty. I didn’t even get the head coaching job until it was the middle of October. There were a lot of questions and for this group to pull it together they way they did — I couldn’t be prouder.”
A reverse layup by junior forward Andrew Brown gave Xavier a 40-28 lead with 3:07 remaining in the third quarter, but Greenwich raised the intensity of its defense, utilizing a full-court press and cut into the Falcon’s advantage.
Layups by Milledge and guard sophomore guard Dan Arnold and a 3-pointer from Genaro, brought GHS to within 40-35 with 1:45 to go in the third quarter.
Milledge scored off a move from the left blocks, while he was being fouled then made the ensuing foul shot, making it 40-38. In the fourth quarter, Mark drove right and converted a layup, pulling the Cardinals to within 43-42 with 6:01 remaining in the fourth quarter. But Greenwich couldn’t get overtake Xavier.
“We just could not get over the hump, we had a couple of opportunities, but we couldn’t get over the hump,” Lovermoi said.
Key baskets by Kohs and Grisham, down the stretch, one of which was a 3-pointer by Grisham, helped the Falcons hold off the Cardinals and move on to the Round of 16.
STRONG SECOND QUARTER FOR FALCONS
After the first quarter ended in an 18-18 tie, Xavier began the second quarter with an 11-2 run to open a 29-20 advantage.
Kohs converted a 3-pointer from the left side, then made a fastbreak layup, giving the Falcons a 23-18 lead early in the second quarter.
Nail’s reverse layup cut Xavier’s lead to 23-20, but the visitors scored the next six points to go ahead, 29-20.
Effective screens and picks enabled Xavier to get good looks at the basket throughout the first half efficiently run its offense against the Cardinals’ man-to-man defense.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit offensively here and there throughout the year,” Xavier coach Michael Kohs said. “Today was different, because we had a lot of consistency on offense. From the first quarter on, I thought we were playing well offensively. We shot the ball well, we executed well and we set screens well.”
Said Grisham: “Before the game, we talked about executing as well as we could. We wanted to set good screens, which was our main focus throughout the game.”
Senior guard Aidan Kaufman swished a baseline jumper, senior center Kyle Signora made a jump shot from the foul line and sophomore center Malcolm Wilson-Toliver made a shot from the short corner, making it 29-20 with 2:45 to go in the second quarter.
The Falcons took a 31-24 lead into halftime after Muir scored on a putback with less than a minute left in the second quarter.
“Xavier is a good team, they came out shooting hot, but we made some adjustments and upped the tempo on defense,” Muir said. “But we were unable to come out with a win.”
OFFENSIVE FIRST QUARTER
Both teams were on target with their shooting in the first quarter, which ended in an 18-18 tie. Genaro had eight first-quarter points, while Milledge had five for the Cards.
Grisham totaled eight points in the first quarter for the visitors.
“We pounded the ball inside to Oliver and they adjusted their defense and kind of collapsed on him,” Lovermi said. “We did not make enough shots to open up their defense.”
Said coach Kohs: “We had our work cut out for us, trying to guard Milledge inside, because he is a heck of a player. But overall, our guys did an excellent job defensively.”
The matchup marked the final game for Cardinals captains Nail, Muir and Milledge.
“We are really started to develop not only as individuals, but as a program and we are really starting to head in the right direction, as you can see from our record compared to last year,” Milledge said.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Grisham and Kohs combined for 36 points, sinking clutch shots throughout.
XAVIER 56, GREENWICH 48
XAVIER 18 13 12 13 — 56
GREENWICH 18 6 14 10 — 48
Marcus Williams 2 2-4 6; Aidan Kaufman 1 0-0 2; Stephen Kohs 6 4-6 18; Kareem Grisham 7 1-2 18; Kyle Signora 1 1-2 3; Malcolm Wilson-Toliver 2 0-0 4; Andrew Brown 2 1-2 5. Totals: 21 9-16 56
Chris Genaro 6 0-0 14; Max Steinman 1 0-0 2; Dan Arnold 1 0-0 2; Gavin Muir 1 0-0 2; Chris Mark 3 0-0 7; Luis Mercado 0 1-2 1; Billy Nail 1 0-0 2; Oliver Milledge 6 6-7 18. Totals: 19 7-9 48