FAIRFIELD -- Paschal Chukwu thought nothing of it, other than to acknowledge in his words that "it just happened." The 7-foot-2, Providence College-bound Fairfield Prep center was assuredly of the minority opinion.
It's a big deal when a player records his first career triple-double in the second round of the Class LL boys basketball tournament. Chukwu fired 24 points at 16th-seeded East Hartford Thursday night at Fairfield University's Alumni Hall. He collected 14 rebounds and blocked 11 shots. Chukwu was also guilty of two goaltending infractions for Hornets' baskets. He was as active and as dominating as he's been all year.
Chukwu led the No. 1-seeded Jesuits (25-0) to a 73-46 victory that sets up a fourth meeting this winter against No. 9 Hillhouse in the quarterfinals on Monday in Fairfield. Prep has already beaten Hillhouse -- which advanced with a 77-47 win over Harding -- three times this season, including in the SCC championship game on March 5.
"He's their `X factor,' " said East Hartford coach Ed Lavoie, whose team ended at 14-9. "They're blessed to have that. He allows their guards to take more chances and to be more aggressive defensively. He allows their guards to take teams out of synch."
Chukwu scored 18 points in the second half that had started with Prep up 25-23.
Prep coach Leo Redgate praised Chukwu's efforts at rotating within the Jesuits' defensive scheme, being aggressive on "D" and making smart choices in trying to disrupt or block East Hartford's shots. But he was even more pleased with their halftime adjustments that centered around how to deploy Chukwu.
Chukwu positioned himself in the paint, not just outside of the lane and not far from the corner, which he had done often in the first half. When the Hornets' defense continued to collapse on him in the second half, there was more room for the Prep's guards to do their damage from beyond the 3-point arc. With more time and space, the Jesuits' long-range shooters fired away more relaxed, thus they were more accurate. Thomas Nolan, who hit four 3s, scored 18 points for the game, and Dave Zielinski, who had two 3-pointers, added eight points.
Keith Pettway, who scored 15 for the Jesuits, turned in a season-high 11 assists. His passes and assertive dribble penetrations compounded East Hartford's defensive struggles in the second half. The Hornets, of the CCC, were led by Rodley Adjei's 11 points and 10 from Colins Nwafor, who was not bashful at challenging Chukwu at both ends of the court.
Prep outscored the Hornets by 30-14 in the pivotal third quarter. Redgate couldn't hide his pride in 14 consecutive possessions, starting early in the quarter, winding up in points on foul shots, baskets, 3s or Chukwu dunks.
"We were getting good looks and executing against a very good defense," Redgate said. "In every possession, we got something out of it."
On the other end, Redgate said Chukwu almost dared East Hartford to take shots.
Chukwu was not focused on the statistical breakthrough, he said.
"At halftime the coaches told me I have to be in the paint, which I did," Chukwu said. "They told me to move and to be active in the paint. Playing each game, I just want to make an impact on offense and defense. Today, it happened to be a triple-double. It just came. I don't try to make that my goal. I just try to help give the team the victory."
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Class LL second round
EAST HARTFORD (14-9)
Avondre Murphy 3 0-0 7 Devin Marsh 2 0-0 5 John Jenkins 2 1-2 5 Rodley Adjei 5 0-1 11 Tariq Ricketts 1 0-0 2 Joshua Williams 1 0-0 2 Augustus Busubrus 0 0-0 0 Michael Ridley 1 0-0 2 Justin Williams 0 0-0 0 Colins Nwafor 4 2-2 10 Rafel Cruz 1 0-0 2. Totals: 20 3-5 46.
FAIRFIELD PREP (25-0)
Paschal Chukwu 10 4-7 24 Dave Zielinski 3 0-0 8 Keith Pettway 6 3-3 15 Thomas Nolan 6 2-2 18 Ryan Foley 2 0-2 5 Ray Featherston 0 1-2 1 Patrick Harding 0 0-1 0 Rich van de Berghe 1 0-0 2 John Murphy 0 0-0 0 Matt Gerics 0 0-0 0. Totals: 28 17-16 73.
EAST HARTFORD 10 13 14 9--46
FAIRFIELD PREP 16 9 30 18--73
3-pointers: EH--A. Murphy, Marsh Adjei; FP--Nolan 4, Zielinski 2, Foley. Technical fouls: EH--bench.