The Wilton boys basketball team already knocked off one FCIAC powerhouse this season, handing St. Joseph its only loss during a shocking 21-point blowout.
Taking down another giant ended up being a little too much to ask.
Wilton had Trinity Catholic on the ropes, getting to within 65-63 with 53 seconds left in the fourth quarter behind a solid effort in the paint by senior forward Weston Wilbur, terrific outside shooting by sophomore Matt Shifrin and a defense that changed its shape more times than a piece of origami.
But the fifth-ranked Crusaders showed why they are still among the class of the FCIAC year after year, dominating the final minute to pull out a 70-65 victory Tuesday night at the Nick Zeoli Fieldhouse in Wilton.
Junior Jermaine Fraiser scored a team-high 24 points, including two free throws with 34 seconds left to put the Crusaders up 67-63. Senior forward Brandon Wheeler pulled down a defensive rebound on a miss by smooth-shooting junior Eric Houska (15 points) on the following possession. That led to a fast-break layup by senior point guard Schadrac Casimir and a six-point lead the Crusaders would not relinquish.
Trinity, which led by as many as 11 points early in the third quarter only to watch the feisty Warriors mount a number of ferocious comebacks, improved to 16-1 overall and kept itself in contention to earn the No. 1 seed for the FCIAC playoffs at 14-1 in the league.
Wilbur finished with a game-high 25 points, eight rebounds and three blocks for Wilton, which fell to 9-7 overall and 7-7 in the FCIAC.
“To come into Wilton and get out with a win is a plus,” Trinity head coach Mike Walsh said. “They played tough. We had leads, and they kept coming back at us and made it a game down the stretch. They’re a scrappy team. They shoot the ball well. I’m happy to get out of here with a victory.”
Wilton’s goal was to hold Trinity’s three-headed monster of Casimir, Fraiser and Wheeler to a combined 48 points or less, and used a myriad of defensive sets to try to get it down, including man-to-man, a 1-3-1 trap, a 2-3 zone and even a triangle-and-2 against Casimir and Fraiser.
“The game plan was to throw everything we could at them until something stuck,” Wilton head coach Joel Geriak said.
Trinity adapted with every move, never allowing Wilton’s defensive trickery to sway the momentum too far in either direction.
“We’ve seen every type of defense,” Walsh said. “Triangle-and-2, box-and-1, whatever. So we’re kind of used to those things. We just have to execute. When we don’t execute, we don’t look very good.”
Wilton left the paint wide open early on as it focused on Casimir and Frasier, allowing Wheeler to pour in 12 of his 18 points over the first two quarters. Wheeler was also a force in the paint, pulling down 11 rebounds while blocking two shots.
The Warriors never slowed down Frasier (eight rebounds), who was all over the court, scoring on acrobatic putbacks, medium and long-range jump-shots, and fast-break layups.
Casimir was held to just four points in the first half on just five attempted shots, but the All-FCIAC guard started creating his own chances in the second half, scoring nine points in the third and eight more in the fourth. That included a 3-pointer in each quarter.
“I just had to stay aggressive,” Casimir said. “In the first half, it wasn’t like I was taking bad shots. I just wasn’t making anything. I knew if I kept taking good shots I would start making them.”
Casimir also came up big when it counted most, scoring the final five points over the final 30 seconds to seal the victory.
“He’s a tough kid to stop,” Geriak said. “We definitely tried. Sometimes all you can do is smile and laugh as a coach and move on.”
Trinity looked like it might pull away a couple of times. Two consecutive 3-point plays by Wheeler in the first quarter gave the Crusaders a 13-7 lead, but the Warriors (9-7 overall, 7-7 FCIAC) came back with an 8-2 run to tie it 15-15 at the end of the quarter.
Trinity then used a 14-0 run spanning the second and third quarters to take a 40-29 lead, including two straight baskets by Fraiser. But Houska scored five straight points to make it 42-34 and Wilbur poured in 11 over the final 3:48, including a 3-pointer and six straight points late in the frame, to get the Warriors to within 49-45.
“Weston played great, and he’s been playing great for a long time,” Geriak said. “He had a great coming-out game against Norwalk with 29. He tries to put the team on his shoulders as much as possible.”
Trinity once again tried to escape, but Shifrin nailed three of his game-high four 3-pointers over the first four minutes of the fourth to keep things close.
“That kid is not scared to make any shot,” Geriak said. “Even with the game on the line, he’s not afraid to take shots and I never expect him to miss them.”
Wilton got close, but could never get all the way back. Wilton pulled to within 55-54 with 4:55 left, but Casimir followed a 3-pointer by Shifrin with one of his own. Shifrin made it 58-57 with another 3-pointer, but Casimir scored a layup off his own steal to put Trinity up 60-57.
“He’s a special kind of a player,” Walsh said of Casimir. “He’s been doing that his whole career.”
Wilton would not go away, getting back to within a point at 60-59 on a nice pull-up jumper by Houska. But Fraiser knocked down a huge 3-pointer to make it 63-59 and the Warriors never got closer than two points after that.
“I thought he really stepped up, especially down the stretch,” Walsh said. “He’s a really good player, and he showed that tonight.”
If Wilton proved anything, it’s the ability to compete with the best the FCIAC has to offer. The Warriors are still within striking distance of their first trip to the FCIAC playoffs since the 1999-2000 season.
“Our kids won’t quit,” Geriak said. “If we’re up by 10 or down by 10, we’re a team that can score when we need to. We just need to work on getting the big stops down the stretch. But if we keep playing like we did tonight, we’ll be where we want to be.”