Prep wins SCC hoop, Thomas Nolan MVP

Paschal Chukwu slams home a dunk during Fairfield Prep's victory over Hillhouse in the SCC title game on Wednesday. (Photo by David G. Whitham)

Paschal Chukwu slams home a dunk during Fairfield Prep’s victory over Hillhouse in the SCC title game on Wednesday.
(Photo by David G. Whitham)

The biggest smile didn’t cross Thomas Nolan’s face when the Fairfield Prep junior was named MVP of the Southern Connecticut Conference’s boys basketball tournament on Wednesday night..
No, Nolan, whose Jesuits defeated Hillhouse High 56-52 at the TD Bank Sports Center in Hamden, was more pleased as he ran toward classmate Ray Featherston, after he called timeout in midair while going out of bounds with a key rebound and Prep clinging to a two-point lead with 1:26 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“Ray has the greatest heart,” Nolan said of Featherston. “That’s my boy. I love that kid.”
Featherston had played only two minutes through three quarters, before taking the 7-0 Paschal Chukwu’s place on the lower block on two consecutive opportunities from the foul line in the closing minutes.
Both times the 5-9 guard somehow came away with the rebound — extending Prep’s chances of winning their first SCC title (they were runners-up in 1995 and 2013).
“I put Ray down low and motioned Paschal to the backcourt,” Prep coach Leo Redgate said after the Jesuits improved to 23-0 on the season. “I figured maybe Ray’d get something, maybe the refs would feel sorry for him with all those big guys.”
Featherston’s calling timeouts to retain possession on back-to-back rebounds was instinctual.
“I’ve been playing basketball my entire life,” he said. “And to be as small as I am, I have to have a high basketball IQ.”
Grabbing the caroms off missed free throws gave Prep two more cracks at holding off Hillhouse, which had somehow ralled back from a 14-point deficit with 7:26 to play.
The Academics (18-5) had three shots to tie or take the lead just inside of a minute, before Chukwu grabbed his 13th rebound and was fouled.
He missed the free throw, but again Featherston was there to prolong the possession.
Keith Pettway got the next look from the line, and the junior guard made one-of-two with 42.7 on the clock for a 54-52 lead.
The Acs’ Shane Christie (20 points) missed a pair from the stripe at the 31-second mark, and Pettway buried a pair with 30 seconds remaining to take the score to 56-52.
“I know coach trusts me with the ball,” Pettway said. “We have alot of players who can make those shots and tonight it was my turn.”
Hillhouse had three long-range shot in the final 15 seconds, but none caught net.
Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton said, “We dug ourselves too deep a hole. I wished we could have made some free throws down the stretch. We have to respect that they are a championship team.”
Neither team did well from the foul line, with Prep shooting 10-for-18 through three periods. Hillhouse was 4-for-9. In the final quarter, Prep was 5-for-9 and Hillhouse 6-for-10.
“We had a ten to twelve-point lead,  played a good two minutes in the fourth quarter and then stopped playing,” Redgate said.
“You have to give Hillhouse credit with their press. The refs were letting us play, which I like, but we weren’t making smart decisions.
“Ray called those two big timeouts. Yes, while I’d like to have one to use in the last 50 seconds, it was important there that we retain possession.
“I’m very happy with the win. This is the first time Prep has gone through a season and won a conference title with an unbeaten record. That’s a credit to the players.
“I thought we played well for three quarters and I’m thrilled that we were able to hold on.”
Chukwu scored 18 points and blocked seven shots. He scored three baskets in the first quarter, and Thomas (15 points) had two buckets, to help Prep to a 13-7 advantage.
The Jesuits took a 29-23 lead into the half, thanks to a 16-4 margin in points in the paint and a 13-2 edge in scoring after turnovers.
They stretched the lead to 47-36 after three quarters, with Chukwu shooting 7-for-7 from the floor and Nolan totaling 11 points to go with five assists.
Pettway finished the game with 10 points and Ryan Foley scored seven.
The Acs stayed in the game by making six 3-pointers, including a trio of long-range shots to keep it close in the second quarter.
Foley had the only 3-pointer for the Jesuits, who were 1-for-12 from beyond the arc.

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