Prep-Hillhouse round four

The top-seeded Fairfield Prep basketball team defeated fifth-seed East Hartford, 78-75, in the Class LL semifinals on Tuesday night at Wilby High in Waterbury.
With the victory, Jesuits advanced to face second-seeded Hillhouse in the state final this weekend at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville. The Academics crushed No. 19 seed Xavier High of Middletown, 57-34, in the other semifinal on Tuesday.
The Hornets made Prep work for its trip to the state final, erasing a 15-point second half deficit and tying the game at 73 on Nick Fenton’s baseline floater with 56 seconds left to play.
A scoop shot from Paschal Chukwu and a foul shot from Tim Butala armed Prep with a 76-73 lead with 19.3 seconds left, but Hornets’ junior swingman Kahari Beaufort was fouled by Chukwu attempting a 3-pointer with 12 seconds remaining.
Beaufort, who fueled East Hartford’s comeback with 13 second-half points, missed the first free throw, but knocked down the next two.
Prep’s Ryan Foley, who replaced Chukwu after the seven-foot center picked up his fifth foul on Beaufort’s 3-point attempt, then tossed in a layup off of Ryan Murphy’s cross-court feed with a tick over four seconds left.
Tommy Nolan made the initial pass to Murphy, a freshman, who fired to a wide-open Foley underneath the hoop.
“I threw it up, I saw Murph,” Nolan said, “And he made a great, unselfish play and passed it to Ryan Foley.”
East Hartford had a chance to force overtime, but Fenton’s desperation heave fell short, setting up the fourth showdown of the season between Hillhouse and Prep.
The Academics split their regular-season games with the Jesuits, before Hillhouse beat Prep for the SCC title, 53-47 in overtime on Feb. 26.
“We predicted that we might see them four times this year,” said Nolan, who scored 18 points.
Butala had a game-high 21 points for the Jesuits — including 17 in the first half. Chukwu chipped in with 12 points, 10 blocks and nine rebounds and Dave Zielinski tallied 10 points off the bench.
Fenton led East Hartford with 18 points, while Colins Nwafor scored 16. Casey Farmer notched 15 points.
Behind the inside-outside game of Butala and nearly 80 percent shooting from the floor, Prep built a 46-33 halftime lead.
“It’s a good shooters’ gym,” Fairfield Prep coach Leo Redgate said. “It reminds me a little of Alumni Hall.”
Nwafor’s layup pulled East Hartford to within 20-16 with 44 seconds left in the opening stanza, but Butala answered with a baseline jumper and a 3-pointer from the left corner, off of a Murphy assist, that beat the buzzer.
Fenton kept the Hornets within striking distance, pouring in 16 first-half markers, including a four-point play that made it 26-20 Prep earlier in the second quarter.
A 9-0 East Hartford burst narrowed the gap to 33-29 midway through the period, but the Jesuits closed the half on a 13-4 run — keyed by a Chukwu dunk off of Butala’s lob into the post.
Zielinski’s layup to start the third quarter staked Prep to its largest lead of the game, 48-33, before the Hornets embarked on their comeback.
Farmer reeled off seven consecutive points, narrowing the East Hartford gap to 48-40.
After Nwafor’s three-point play cut Prep’s lead to 59-53, Nolan worked his way inside for putback to make it 61-53 heading into the frenzied fourth quarter.
Redgate deployed the 6-8 Butala on the 6-4 Beaufort, limiting the junior Hornet to just a pair of field goals in the final period.
East Hartford scored 22 points in the fourth quarter, clawing its way back to tie the game twice in the final three minutes.
But, it was Foley who came off of the bench to score the game’s crucial basket after Beaufort’s free throws with 12 seconds left.
Murphy made the key pass, with Foley showing no hesitation going for the layup — and no directive from the Prep bench to dribble the ball back out in an attempt to kill off the clock.
“If we are going to lose, I don’t want to lose playing passively,” Redgate said. “I wanted to lose as aggressively as we can.”

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