DARIEN -- With each team coming off of an Opening Night loss, the last thing the Darien and Fairfield Ludlowe boys basketball teams wanted to do on Friday night was exit the Darien High School gymnasium with a goose egg intact in the win column.
While that likely goes without saying, the game was further magnified due to the lengthy upcoming Christmas break, as the Falcons and Blue Wave will have to wait six and seven days, respectively, before they're back on the court for their next game.
Ludlowe took the lead with the first bucket of the fourth quarter and did not trail again in its nail-biting 48-47 win.
"Absolutely huge. We have a really tough schedule coming up," Ludlowe coach John Dailey said. "(The locker room at halftime) was loud, it was angry, and it was just about toughness. I didn't think we guarded at all, we didn't communicate, we didn't work hard in the first half defensively. I wasn't worried about the offense, but we had to get stops."
With time running out on game-long seesaw struggle, Ludlowe's Chad Peterson made his first free throw before missing the second with eight seconds remaining, giving his team a 48-46 lead.
Darien grabbed the rebound and Matt Staubi looked to give his team the win with a 3-pointer, but he was fouled from behind, giving him three shots from the foul line with a second remaining. Staubi made his second shot, but the Blue Wave remained winless after a one-point loss.
"They hit shots early in that third quarter and were able to get their feet under them. Credit to my guys: They battled as hard as they could to get back into it, but there were little things along the way," Darien coach Kyle Marian said. "They started out-rebounding us in the second half. There weren't major turnovers, but the little things after a while start to add up."
Trailing 28-20 coming out of the halftime break, the Falcons caught fire with a 13-2 run to build a 33-30 lead. Staubi gave his team a 37-35 lead late in the third, but Ludlowe's Darren Lee knotted it at 37-37 going into the fourth, and the Falcons would not trail in the fourth.
"The difference tonight in the second half was the way we played defense and our physicality and our toughness," Dailey said. "We talked about that at halftime. We made a few more shots in the second half; we couldn't throw a rock in the ocean in the first half. We got after it on the offensive glass, we got stops, we got defensive rebounds."
After playing to a 9-9 deadlock after one, Darien went on its best run of the day, 14-5, highlighted by a thunderous dunk by Chima Azuonwu.
"I tell the guys it's a cardinal sin to create a turnover on the defensive end and then you come down and turn it right back over. You've got to make teams pay for that," Marian said. "It's going to be one of those games that's going to sit for a bit, and we'd like the holiday break to be a little more joyful than 0-2, but these guys know we're close."
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FAIRFIELD LUDLOWE (1-1)
Matt Staubi 6 4-9 18; George Phillips 5 0-0 12; Chima Azuonwu 5 1-1 11; Alex Preston 2 0-0 4; Bobby Fitzpatrick 1 0-0 2. Totals: 19 5-10 47
FAIRFIELD LUDLOWE 9 11 17 11--48
DARIEN 9 19 9 10--47
3-pointers: FL--Malone 4, Lee; D--Staubi 2, Phillips 2.