Boys basketball: Proficient Prep upends Trumbull Eagles

The Fairfield Prep basketball team took advantage on its height advantage, and a fine display of making the extra pass, when the 22nd-seeded Jesuits posted a 76-69 victory over host and No. 6 seed Trumbull High in a Class LL second-round state tournament game on Wednesday night.

“When you are playing really great teams like a Trumbull, you can’t just hoist up threes,” Prep coach Leo Redgate said. “You have to use what your advantages are, we had a height advantage. They (Patrick Harding and John Kelly) are both pretty good in there.”

Harding, a 6-foot-8 forward, and Kelly, a 6-foot-5 swingman each scored 22 points to lead the Jesuits to victory. Prep (12-11) will visit third-seeded East Catholic (21-1) in the quarterfinal round on Friday at 7 p.m.

“We didn’t have a big FCIAC this year, so we tailored our offense to spread the floor and utilize our speed,” Trumbull coach Buddy Bray said. “It caught up to us tonight on the defensive end with their size. No fault from our kids, they had some nice size and took advantage of it. They did a good job feeding it in the post. Coach Redgate had them feed the big man (Patrick Harding) and he did a nice job finishing around the rim.”

Trumbull (20-4) used long-range shooting in the opening quarter to offset set a fluid offensive flow from the  Jesuits, who took a 14-12 lead after one in the game played before a packed house.

The Eagles’ Johnny McElroy, who finished with 18 points, knocked down a pair of 3-pointers and assisted on treys from J.J. Pfohl (16 points) and Jack Lynch (14 points). Danny Ruchalski and Pfohl found McElroy open for his threes.

Prep had assists on 5-of-6 field goals in the quarter, with Kelly scoring five points and notching two assists. The Jesuits had five assists in each of the first three quarters and ended the game with 18 assists on 25 made field goals.

“I said had to keep pounding the paint, keep pounding the paint, eventually if they double down on it we can kick it out for a wide open three,” Redgate said. “To me, the more you share the ball the more of a dynamic you bring on offense. That is the way we want to be playing in March.”

Trumbull went on an 11-0 run between the two periods to go on top 17-16 on the strength of five straight points from the 6-foot-4 Lynch. Prep countered with a 12-2 run.

The 6-foot-6 Bobby Haskins had two putback buckets and Philip Vlandis scored seven points in the stanza. Harding had five markers and two assists. Prep shot 9-for-14 with five assists.

Kelly banked home a 3-pointer with three seconds remaining in the half to push the margin to 10 points, but Pfohl wowed the crowd with a buzzer-beating three of his own to take his team into the locker room down 35-28.

After making four threes in the opening period, Trumbull was 0-for-4 from beyond the arc before Pfohl’s miracle shot. The Eagles were, however, 7-for-8 from the field by running their half-court sets.

Except for a pair of three-point plays (one by each team), neither team took a trip to the foul line in the first two quarters.

Prep opened the third period scoring on 4-of-5 possessions (with three assists) and took a 47-31 lead at the 4:34 mark on a breakaway basket by Mitchell Savoca (nine points) after a steal by Brian Noone (15 points).

“No way did we think we were going to win (by 16 or 18 points),” Redgate said. “We have nothing but incredible respect for Coach Bray and how he runs his program. We knew they were fighters. We didn’t think they were going to roll over, they fought back so kudos to them.”

Trumbull ended the third quarter scoring points on 6-of-7 possessions, including a slam dunk from 6-foot-2 sophomore guard Chris Brown (10 points) following a steal. That took the score to 53-45 after three.

Ruchalski had assists on the first two buckets to begin the rally, a 3-pointer from Brown and a basket inside by Lynch.

Pfohl pulled up at the foul line to drain a deuce and Timmond Williams (nine points) flushed a three off a pass from Brown.

Prep, despite shooting 7-for-12 with five more assists, was only one-point better than when they left the locker room at halftime.

“When we run our sets we are a good basketball team,” Redgate said. “We have good pieces. I think we played with some great intensity. A lot of guys haven’t been in a (postseason) game like this. Trumbull fought back and I think we responded well.”

Harding had two hoops inside and Kelly one to regain a 10-point edge.

The Eagles twice closed within four (59-55 on Brown’s trey) and 61-57 (on two free throws by Williams).

Prep had shared the basketball well all game, but with the game on the line they let Noone handle the ball and the 5-foot-11 guard made 6-of-8 free throws in the final 1:28 to close the door.

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