In a battle of red-hot South-West Conference foes, the host Notre Dame-Fairfield boys basketball team fended off a determined squad from Newtown for a 63-59 win on Friday night in Fairfield.
Jesse McIntosh and Jaylen Jennings combined for 42 points, with McIntosh leading Notre Dame scorers with 22 points. That was enough to overcome a game-high 23 points by Newtown big man Julian Dunn. The Lancers won their fourth in a row to improve to 5-3 overall (4-0 SWC) and the Nighthawks dropped their first game of the calendar year, slipping to 4-5 (2-1 conference) and losing hold of a four-game winning streak.
A key moment in the game came early in the fourth quarter when Newtown center Dunn fouled out of the contest. The Lancers were in the bonus situation, so Jennings was awarded a one-and-one free throw opportunity with his team clinging to a 51-49 lead with 6:11 to play. Dunn was whistled for a technical foul, giving Jennings two extra foul shots, and giving the Lancers the ball on the ensuing in bounds play. He sank all of the foul shots for a 55-49 lead. The Nighthawks couldn't recover, although they hung close.
The Lancers went to the foul line a whopping 26 times and hit 17 of their shots, and Newtown made seven of 11 free throws.
"It was the way the game went," Newtown coach Tim Tallcouch said of Dunn's early effort giving way to his premature exit. "Obviously he's a huge part of our offensive and defensive schemes."
Joseph Cantey and Jake Heaton each had seven points for Notre Dame.
McIntosh converted a fastbreak to extend the lead to 57-49. After Newtown got to within 57-54 on a Mike Davis basket, the Lancers answered on an Anthony Gadsen bucket with a little more than three minutes remaining. Notre Dame held at least a two-possession lead until Newtown's Troy Frangione hit a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left.
Jennings hit a free throw one second later to all but ice it.
"We didn't give our best effort, especially defensively, but we battled," said Lancers' coach Vin Laczkoski, adding that his young squad is learning to become mentally tough. "I'm very proud."
"It wasn't our best game but it was a `W,' so we'll take it," said Jennings, one of Notre Dame's captains.
The story of the game early on was Dunn versus McIntosh. Dunn scored all 13 of Newtown's first-quarter points, and McIntosh drained five opening-half 3-pointers to pile up 19 of his points in the first two quarters. The Lancers built a 34-29 lead at the break, and maintained the lead the rest of the way.
"As long as we stay strong as a team, we can beat any team in the league. We've just got to stick together," said Notre Dame captain Raphael Torres, who left the game in the first quarter with an injury.
Andy Hutchison is a freelance reporter