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boys swc basketball quarterfinals Lancers heating up

February 23, 2019

NEW MILFORD — Don’t count out the defending champions just yet.

The Notre Dame-Fairfield boys basketball team are playing their best basketball at just the right time, and chemistry that took almost a season to build is certainly paying off now.

No. 5 ND-Fairfield forced a flurry of turnovers late in the third quarter as a prolonged 20-6 run led to a 63-47 win over No. 4 New Milford in the SWC quarterfinals Friday night. The Lancers have won the last three conference titles and what seemed like an unlikely four-peat at the start of the season is still alive now.

“I’m very proud of the guys,” said Lancers coach Chris Watts. “We weren’t supposed to beat too many teams this year but we still had the same mentality of last year of winning champions and winning games. Unfortunately Joe Public didn’t believe that; for a whole new team I think it took about 20 games to get them on track.”

The Lancers (13-8) got balanced scoring throughout the lineup; Phil Conner — one of very few holdovers from last season — scored 13 points while teammates Cape Holden and Rodney Medor each had 14. But it was defense that ruled the day as New Milford was hassled up and down the court.

“Defensive intensity got better definitely,” said Conner. “We needed to get stops and that’s what we did.”

The Green Wave were playing their first home playoff game in over a decade, and got off to a positive start by holding the lead the entire first half. ND’s second-half pressure induced turnovers at an alarming rate for the hosts, and one layup after another went in the basket.

“One of the things we wanted to focus on was making them work to score the ball and not giving them easy baskets,” said New Milford coach Al Tolomeo. “And that’s exactly what happened. When you go against a team as athletic and disciplined in their pressure as they are, you have to do the little things.”

New Milford’s largest lead came late in the first half, when the hosts had a 29-21 lead. The Lancers forced a pair of turnovers to cut it to 29-24, a theme that would continue into the second half. ND took the lead for good on a pair of free throws from Conner that made it 36-34.

HELLO AGAIN

The Lancers will face No. 1 Immaculate in a rematch of last year’s final win by ND. The roles have been reversed this year, though, as the Mustangs went undefeated in the league during the regular season and routed Masuk in the quarterfinals.

Kolbe and Bunnell will make up the other semifinal on Monday.

“In playoffs everyone’s record is 0-0,” Conner said. “We don’t look at seeds, we just look at what team we have next.”

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Max Mitchell, ND-Fairfield: A key piece on both ends of the court, Mitchell finished with 15 points and an emphatic dunk late on.

QUOTABLE

“It’s always tough, especially for the seniors,” Tolomeo said. “The whole group has come so far and every time I get on the court with this group I expect to win. They put the effort and this one hurt. They’ll try to put the pain into motivation and focus on our task for states.”

“I think it’s just learning the system and understand that defense is going to win games more than the 3-point shot,” Watts said. “Guys grew up as the season went on; they didn’t know success, these are kids who don’t have championships.”

rlacey@bcnnew.com, @ryanlacey11

ND-FAIRFIELD 63,

NEW MILFORD 47

ND-FAIRFIELD (13-8)

Cape Holden 3 6-6 14 Jaden Palmer 0 1-2 1 Blake Macklin 1 1-2 4 Derek Long 0 2-2 2 Rodney Medor 7 0-1 14 Max Mitchell 6 0-1 15 Phil Conner 5 3-4 13. Totals: 22 13-18 63.

NEW MILFORD (14-7)

Josiah Morales 3 1-3 7 Johnny Fitzmaurice 1 0-0 3 Tyler Bowe 3 1-2 9 Eric Habijan 3 7-11 14 Eric Diaz 4 1-2 10 Hunter Skelly 1 0-0 2 Nick Stavino 0 2-2 2. Totals: 15 12-20 47.

ND-FAIRFIELD 9 15 21 18 — 63

NEW MILFORD 12 17 11 7 — 47

3-pointers: ND—Holden 2, Macklin, Mitchell 3; NM—Fitzmaurice, Bowe 2, Habijan, Diaz.