By Emery Filmer
DARIEN — With no one taller than 6-foot-3 on his team and with Monday’s opponent led by a 6-foot-10, 245-pounder, formulating a game plan figured to be a most difficult task for Westhill boys basketball coach Howard White. But White had another idea:
And that strategy worked like a charm.
“I didn’t have a game plan, I’m not going to lie,” White said after the Vikings had beaten Darien and its imposing center Chima Azuonwu, 57-54. “We had no answer for him, none whatsoever.”
Azuonwu made 10 of 14 field goal attempts ““ mostly dunks ”“ and scored 24 points while pulling down 20 rebounds. But it wasn’t enough because Jeremiah Livingston and the other Vikings listened to their coach as the fourth quarter unfolded.
“I told them that we’re not going to stop their big man so our defense had to come out and play strong at the end,” White said.
The Vikings (15-4, 13-4 FCIAC) outscored Darien 8-0 in the final two minutes. They knew that while they had no answer for Azuonwu, Darien (10-9, 8-9) still had to get the ball into him for him to be effective. And that’s where the Blue Wave’s hope of an upset went awry.
“We needed to execute better down the stretch,” Darien coach Kyle Marian said. “The last couple of minutes we didn’t have great possessions.”
Darien turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions and committed nine turnovers in the final quarter, 24 in all. Down three, Darien had two turnovers in the final 11 seconds.
“The only way we were going to win this game was to play defense,” White said. “Jeremiah stepped up big and came up with the big steal (with 11 seconds remaining) when we needed it.”
Livingston scored 21 points to go with six steals to lead Westhill, which still has hopes of finishing as the third seed in the FCIAC playoffs that begin Saturday. Evan Skoparantzos, the 6-3 center for the Vikings, finished with 13 points and five rebounds and made two clutch 15-footers in front of Azuonwe in the final two minutes as the Vikings were overcoming a 54-49 deficit.
Before the final two minutes, however, Azuonwu, who just started playing basketball two years ago, put on a show. His 24-point, 20-rebound night included a six-minute stay on the bench in the second quarter after he picked up his second foul.
“We did a great job using our big man,” Marian said. “Chima has come a long way. He was very assertive and this was one of his best games. Our problem was that we needed more from everyone else.”
Blue Wave guard Matt Staubi (10 points) was held in check by Livingston and CJ Donaldson. Aside from Azuonwu and Staubi, the Blue Wave, knocked out of FCIAC playoff contention with the loss, made just six field goals.
Donaldson finished with 11 points and five steals for Westhill.
WESTHILL (15-4, 13-4 FCIAC)
Jeremiah Livingston 7 6-8 21 CJ Donaldson 4 1-1 11 Evan Skoparantzos 5 3-3 13 Tyrell Alexander 2 0-0 6 Juan Delacruz 3 0-0 7 Samir Johnson 0 0-0 0 Jesse Brown 0 0-0 0 Luke Herritt 0 0-0 0 Chianta Holtzclaw 0 0-2 0. Totals: 20 12-18 57.
DARIEN (10-9, 8-9)
Chima Azuonwu 10 4-4 24 George Phillips 3 0-0 7 Bobby Fitzpatrick 0 6-6 6 Hudson Hamill 0 0-1 0 Matt Staubi 5 0-0 10 Ames Murray 1 1-2 3 Alexander Preston 2 0-0 4. Totals: 21 11-13 54.
WESTHILL................................10 23 9 15—57
DARIEN.................................17 15 12 10—54
3-pointers: W—Donaldson 2, Alexander 2, Livingston; D—Phillips.
Highlights: W—Skoparantzos had five rebounds. Livingston had six steals. Donaldson had five steals. D—Azuonwu had 20 rebounds.