FAIRFIELD — During Notre Dame-Fairfield’s run to the Division I championship last season, then-juniors Phil Conner and Rodney Medor were usually the seventh or eighth players off the bench. While they took a backseat to others in the headlines, being role-players on an undefeated state champion certainly held some advantages.
For one, playing daily against the likes of Tyler Bourne and Noreaga Davis helped sharpen both Medor and Conner’s skills.
And those skills were on display for Notre Dame on Friday night in the final of the SWC Tip-Off Tournament against Bunnell. The senior duo helped the Lancers pull out a 60-54 victory at Rielly Auditorium.
Medor led all scorers with 17 points, while Conner added 10 on his way to tournament MVP honors.
“Those two guys played behind some of the best basketball players that I’ve ever coached last year and they guarded those guys every single day in practice,” Notre Dame coach Chris Watts said. “They played offense against those guys every single day in practice. So they’ve played against the top team in the state of Connecticut every single day. They’re ready.”
Conner also took on the role of guarding Bunnell junior guard Maximus Edwards, who led the Bulldogs with 16 points. The 6-foot-3 Edwards helped spark the Bulldogs second-half comeback attempt and made the all-tournament team.
“We have to work on some stuff — missing free throws, wide-open layups,” Edwards said. “We’ll be back out there (in practice) tomorrow morning.”
Notre Dame (2-0) led by as many 14 in the first quarter and carried a 38-25 lead into the break. In the first half the Lancers offense clicked with Medor, Conner and Cape Holden all finding success from 3-point range.
Things changed in the second half. Bunnell’s defense picked up and Notre Dame lost its shooting touch from outside. Although the Bulldogs trailed 48-39 to end the third, they’d held the Lancers to 10 points — on only two field goals.
“They came out aggressive and we were a little lackadaisical,” Conner said.
Bunnell finally began to chip away midway through the fourth. A 7-0 run, highlighted by Edwards’ three-point play, cut Notre Dame’s lead to 50-49. A 3-pointer from Javon Wilson seconds later made it 52-52 with little over a minute left.
The Lancers missed their chance to take the lead on the next possession and the Bulldogs briefly controlled the rebound under the basket. Notre Dame sophomore Blake Macklin poked the ball away, converted a lay-up and was fouled to effectively seal the win for the Lancers.
Despite the narrow loss, Bunnell coach Dan Powell took away some early-season positives from his team.
“We just have to trust what we’re doing and get down help each other out on defense,” he said.
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PLAYER OF THE GAME
Rodney Medor, ND-Fairfield — Although teammate Phil Conner took overall tournament MVP honors, Medor provided a steady hand throughout the game Friday for the Lancers. The senior led all scorers with 17 including three 3-pointers.
“To come here tonight and get focused without a practice in-between, that’s the thing I’m impressed with. We gave them the gameplan 20 minutes before the game and they executed it.” — Notre Dame-Dame-Fairfield Chris Watts on his team winning the SWC Tip-Off Tournament.
NOTRE DAME 60, BUNNELL 54
Tyler Staggs-Burgess 0 0-2 Maximus Edwards 7 1-2 16 Elijah Alexandre 4 2-4 11 Jaden McDowell 3 2-2 7 Derrick Gyimah 1 0-0 2 Joshua Giannoni 2 1-2 5 Javon Wilson 2 2-2 10 Totals: 20 6-14 54
Cape Holden 3 0-0 8 Jonathan Despeignes 2 5-5 9 Jaden Palmer 0 5-6 5 Blake Macklin 2 1-1 5 Rodney Medor 6 2-3 17 Max Mitchell 2 2-2 6 Phil Conner 4 1-4 10 Totals: 19 16-21 60
BUNNELL 10 19 10 15—54
ND-FAIRFIELD 22 16 10 12—60
3-pointers: B—Edwards, Alexandre, McDowell, Willson 2; ND—Holden 2, Medor 3, Conner
All Tournament Team: Jeremiah Taylor (Capitol Prep), Marcell Robinson (Harding), Max Edwards (Bunnell), Javon Wilson (Bunnell), Cape Holden (ND-Fairfield), Rodney Medor (ND-Fairfield); MVP: Phil Conner (ND-Fairfield)