STRATFORD -- After losing to Notre Dame of Fairfield by 11 points in the final game of the regular season, in a one-sided contest the Lancers led by 22 points at halftime, it should have been the eighth-seeded Barlow boys basketball team that went into the playoff rematch looking tentative.
Instead, it was the top-seeded Lancers who came out sleeping in their sneakers, and the Falcons made them pay with a shocking first-round upset.
Barlow worked its game plan to perfection, jumping out to a 17-6 lead early in the second quarter and turning it into a 53-49 victory in the SWC quarterfinals Saturday night at Bunnell.
Barlow dominated the paint defensively in the first half behind 6-foot-4 junior Chathan Studer (eight points, 10 rebounds) and junior forward John Richitelli (eight points, six rebounds, two blocks), holding the Lancers to just four field goals and two points in the paint.
The Falcons also did a great job breaking through Notre Dame's tough press, and were patient and productive once they set up in the half-court offense, getting a game-high 20 points and 12 rebounds from junior Zach Pompea and a game-high four 3-pointers from junior guard Will Menapace (17 points).
Barlow (10-11) earned its way into the SWC playoffs by winning three of its final four regular season games and has taken that momentum right into the postseason. The Falcons will face No. 5 Kolbe Cathedral in the semifinals at 8 Tuesday at Newtown. Weston will face defending champion Bunnell in the other semifinal at 6.
"The great part about these kids is they believe," Barlow coach Matt Whalen said. "We played a very tough non-conference schedule. We had Westhill and Stamford and teams like that to prepare us for moments like this. We played some of those teams tough and we've improved as the year has gone along. I think now we're just really starting to hit our stride."
Notre Dame (16-5), which went into the playoffs having won 15 of its previous 16 games, simply did not come ready to play. The Lancers connected on just one field goal in the first quarter and trailed 24-14 at halftime.
"We didn't play the first half," Notre Dame coach Vinny Laczkoski said. "A lot of that had to do with them, but a lot of that had to do with the way we played. We played very tentatively. We had a great run going 16-4 and winning the league (regular season), but we learned a tough lesson tonight. You have to play 32 minutes, not 16. That first-half deficit was just too much."
Notre Dame turned the ball over on its first two trips down the court in the first quarter. By then, Barlow had a 8-0 lead and all the confidence it would need to pull off the upset.
"I didn't think we played that poorly the last time we played them," Whelan said. "They hit nine 3s in the first half, and they're a team, when they see the ball go through the net, they get a lot of confidence and kick up their pressure. Tonight, they didn't shoot as well, and I think our defense caused some of that."
The Lancers picked things up in the second half, getting to within 35-32 at the end of the third quarter. Notre Dame trailed by just four points with under two minutes left in the fourth after a steal and layup by Jesse McIntosh.
But Barlow sealed the game at the foul line, converting on 11 of 15 free throws over the final 2:08.
"That was the key to the game. They made free throws," Laczkoski said. "I just hope the kids understand the situation they're in right now. It's a shame. It's a hard lesson they had to learn." Read Full Article
The Falcons also held Jaylen Jennings in check, never allowing him to get comfortable in the paint. The senior forward managed just nine points with all but two of that coming on the perimeter.
"That was the game plan," Whelan said. "We were fronting Jennings, and they have quick guards who can slash to the basket, and we kept them out of the paint."
Chathan Studer 2 4-6 8 Will Bracken 0 0-0 0 Zach Pompea 7 6-6 20 John Richitelli 4 0-0 8 Jeff Gallagher 0 0-2 0 Will Menapace 5 3-4 17 Jon Tucker 0 0-0 0 Bryce Fey 0 0-0 0 Adam Koubeck 0 0-0 0. Totals: 18 13-18 53
NOTRE DAME-FAIRFIELD (16-5)
Jesse McIntosh 1 5-6 7 Jake Heaton 4 3-5 13 Jordan Pettway 3 1-3 7 Jaylen Jennings 3 2-2 9 CJ Davidson 3 1-2 8 Anthony Gadsden 0 0-0 0 Joe Cantey 1 2-2 5 Raphael Torres 0 0-0 0. Totals: 15 14-20 49
BARLOW 12 12 11 18--53
ND-FAIRFIELD 4 10 18 17--49
3-pointers: B--Menapace 4; NDF--Heaton 2, Jennings, Davidson, Cantey.