DARIEN-- Positioned right on the cusp of make-or-break in the FCIAC standings, both St. Joseph's and Darien knew that last Tuesday's game mattered greatly. In the end, though, there could only be one leftunbroken, and it was the Cadets who found a way to take down Darien, 55-48. The game was tight from beginning to the end, as neither team built more than a five-point lead until the closing seconds.
With the loss, the Blue Wave fell to 4-7 in the FCIAC, and St. Joseph's improved to the same mark.
"We think of this as a new season starting tonight," said Cadets captain Jon Dzurenda, who, despite facing tremendous defensive pressure, knocked down 16 points for the night. "We just tried to stay positive and kept attacking the rim."
Led by senior George Phillips, Darien came charging out in the first quarter. Phillips quickly hit two baskets and a three-pointer, and senior Chima Azuonwu, the team's 6 10"center, dominated the boards on both ends of the court. Azuonwu also collected six points in the opening frame.
After outscoring their visitors 17-13 in the first quarter, the Blue Wave failed to regain their offensive groove for the rest of the game. Early in the second, the Cadets gained some defensive traction and then outscored their hosts in each of the remaining three quarters.
"All of sudden we go into neutral," said Darien coach Kyle Marian. "We let teams get hope and get back into it. We just turned the ball over at the wrong times."
Blue Wave co-captain Matt Staubi, who showed toughness inside throughout the evening, emerged as a scoring threat in the second quarter with two baskets. Staubi finished with a team-high 17 points. Darien took a 23-20 lead into the halftime break, but had already passed its high water mark.
"We didn't execute down the stretch," Staubi said. "But we will stay positive, and we will bounce back from this. We're not done."
In the second half, St. Joseph junior Arkel Ager repeatedly struck gold from the perimeter. Then, he made all four of his free throws in the final frame to polish off a game-best 19 points.
As a team, the Cadets knocked down 13 of their 20 foul shots, while the Wave went 5-9.
Both sides clashed fiercely in the fourth quarter, but the Cadets' defensive pressure and strong interior defense eventually won them the game. With 48 seconds remaining, and St. Joseph's clinging to a mere two-point lead, Erick Langston deftly stole a Blue Wave pass to seal the deal for his squad.
"We are starting to gel now and find chemistry amongst each other," remarked Cadets head coach Chris Watts. "And to handle a guard like Staubi, who is probably one of the best point guards in the league, and to come here and a get a win against Darien, means a lot."
Marian knows there is much work to be done with his team.
"St. Joe's got their shooters open, attacked the basket and rebounded," he said. "They played their game, and I've been stressing to these guys that we need to play ours. We've got a lot of work to do. We're not where we think we are."
The other double-digit scorers were Langston, who downed 10 points, and Phillips, who picked up 14.
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