DARIEN -- Greenwich High School senior forward Greg Donlic went from being hot from the field in the first half to being in a complete zone during the second half of Thursday night's game against Darien.
The 6-foot-5 power forward had one of those special games when nearly every shot he attempted went in and the Cardinals needed every one of his baskets to get past a spirited Darien squad.
Donlic scored all but two of Greenwich's field goals in the second half and finished with a game-high 27 points to power the Cardinals to a 50-47 win over the host Blue Wave in the championship game of the 17th annual Tony LaVista Memorial Basketball Tournament.
"Thank God Greg started scoring tonight because he was our saving grace," Greenwich coach Bill Brehm said of Donlic, who earned the tournament's MVP honors. "If he didn't score the way he did for us tonight, we probably wouldn't have won the game."
How clutch was Donlic for the Cardinals Thursday night? He scored 17 of the team's 22 second-half points and eight of its 10 field goals after halftime.
"I saw that one of us had to step up and since I'm one of the captains, I tried to do that," Donlic said. "I'm not happy with how we played, but it was good for us to get a hard victory like this."
The Cardinals (4-1), who held a 12-point lead after the first quarter, almost didn't leave Darien with the tournament's championship trophy.
The Blue Wave (1-4) came storming back, closing to within 41-39 with 5:58 remaining in the final quarter behind an 8-2 run. Junior swingman Liam Naughton, who poured in a team-high 22 points, made it a two-point game by converting a 3-pointer from the right corner. Layups from forward William Armero and 6-10 center Sem Kroon, followed by a pair of baskets from Donlic opened an 8-point cushion for the Cards with 2:06 left.
But the Blue Wave hung tough. Sophomore point guard Bobby Fitzpatrick made a layup with nine seconds to go, cutting Greenwich's lead to 50-47. However, the home team fell one shot short and the Cards held on.
Senior guard Alejandro Rodriguez scored all 13 of his points in the first half, while Kroon, who was in foul trouble throughout, had five for the visitors.
"Give all the credit to Darien," Brehm said. "They played a real hard game and I think we may have coasted a little bit in the first half. Mentally, we may have thought the game was going to be ours instead of continuing to do what we did in the first quarter."
What the Cardinals did in the opening quarter was open a quick 9-0 edge by forcing turnovers off their 2-2-1 full court press. Rodriguez had 10 points in the first quarter, while Donlic scored eight for the Cardinals, who seemed poised to put the game away early. Switching to a box-and-one to try to offset Rodriguez's hot shooting from the perimeter, Darien began slowing Greenwich down offensively, while cutting into its lead.
"We knew Rodriguez was a good shooter, so we tried to get him off his game," Darien coach Kyle Marian said. "We played a box-and-one, threw a full court press at them and a halfcourt trap to try to get them out of rhythm. It was just a matter of changing the tempo."
Though Darien made it difficult for Greenwich to get good looks at the basket in the second half, it had no answer for Donlic. Consistently getting the ball in the high post, Donlic scored several times on strong drives to the basket and even converted a 3-pointer late in the third quarter to put GHS ahead, 37-26.
"I feel like I can score when I have to," Donlic said. "I knew I had to step up tonight."
Said Marian: "We knew he (Donlic) could be a problem. We tried to make him earn every point and I think he did."
Junior forward Kyle Green added 10 points for Darien, which exited the game with plenty of optimism.
"If we make some more foul shots, we win that game and if we reduce our turnovers and get some more box outs, we win," Marian said. "I'm proud of our effort. We could have easily folded after the first quarter, but we pushed back and played great for three quarters."
Though happy with the victory, Greenwich knows it must continue to improve to compete with the top teams in the league in the future.
"We definitely have to play harder defense," said Rodriguez, who made two 3-pointers. "Darien played real tough and did everything right tonight."
NOTES: Greenwich shot only 5-of-13 from the foul line, while Darien converted just 9-of-17 free throws. ... Armero did a solid job down low with Kroon on the bench in foul trouble. ... Senior Matt Lee made the All-Tournament team for Darien.
Greenwich 50, Darien 47
GREENWICH 20 8 11 11 -- 50
DARIEN 8 10 13 16 -- 47
GREENWICH (50): Greg Donlic 13 0-1 27; Alejandro Rodriguez 4 3-4 13; Alex McMurray 1 0-0 2; Jonathan Palmer 0 1-3 1; Sem Kroon 2 1-2 5; William Armero 1 0-2 2; James Harris 0 0-0 0; Jim Djema 0 0-2 0; Sam Latto 0 0-0 0; Patrick Santini 0 0-0 0. Totals: 21 5-13 50.
DARIEN (47): Matt Lee 2 2-7 6; Bobby Fitzpatrick 1 0-0 2; Liam Naughton 6 5-7 22; Drew Martzolf 0 0-0 0; Kyle Green 4 2-3 10; George Phillips 3 0-0 7; Brian Wiegand 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 9-17 47.
3-pointers: G -- Rodriguez 2, Donlic; D -- Naughton 5, Phillips.
Records: Greenwich 4-1; Darien 1-4