Two days after a crushing, lopsided defeat at the hands of St. Joseph, Norwalk came out flat against Darien on Feb. 7 and committed numerous unforced turnovers in the first half and fell behind by four points.
But last Thursday's home game was a tale of two different halves, as the Bears emerged from halftime looking more like the team with a 9-5 record. They cut down on turnovers, hit the boards with intensity, and finally exploited the absence of injured Darien point guard Matt Staubi, causing three straight turnovers to open the second half.
Norwalk opened the second half with a 9-0 run and never looked back as it cruised to a 65-53 victory.
"As bad as we were in the first half, we were that good for the second half," Norwalk coach Tom Keyes said. "I'm sure people think we were going nuts on the kids (at halftime). After what happened earlier in the week (against St. Joseph's), possibly they put a little too much pressure on themselves."
Darien was the team playing without its point guard -- Staubi has a lingering ankle/knee injury that he reaggravated in a fall during last Tuesday's loss to McMahon -- but Norwalk was the team that lacked ball control in the early going, coughing up six turnovers in the first quarter as Darien took a 19-11 lead.
Twice in the second quarter Norwalk had fast-break opportunities that were wasted when the ball-handler opted to throw an ill-advised alley-oop to a teammate instead of going hard to the basket. This bit of cuteness prompted Keyes to yell at his team, "We are losing!" as a reminder that such plays were ill-timed.
When Darien sophomore Charlie Travers connected from the field midway through the second quarter, the Blue Wave enjoyed their largest lead of the game 23-13. Darien was successful against the Norwalk press for most of the first half, and built their lead on the back of senior Liam Naughton (game-high 21 points), who had two 3-pointers in the first 16 minutes.
But the second half belonged to Norwalk. Sophomore Zaire Wilson (12 points) closed the deficit to 29-28 with a 3-point play on the first possession of the second half. After a Darien turnover, Roy Kane Jr. quickly followed with two free throws to give Norwalk its first lead of the game, 30-29. Two more Darien turnovers -- three in a row to start the half -- allowed Norwalk to push ahead 34-29. Naughton temporarily staunched the bleeding for Darien, connecting for his third 3-pointer of the game. But Norwalk scored the last seven points of the quarter and led 47-38 entering the fourth quarter.
"(Norwalk) came out in the second half playing their type of basketball. They had a little bit more fire under their tail," Darien coach Kyle Marian said.
Darien wasn't able to close the gap in the fourth quarter. Norwalk's Jeremy Linton scored on a plus-one layup to push the lead to 12, and then Wilson scored to make it 56-42, which tied for Norwalk's biggest lead of the game.
"Zaire did a really good job," Keyes said. "It's been building up for the last few weeks now. He's been putting in a lot of effort in practice, and we just decided to give him a shot tonight, and I thought he played well. And if we can get contributions like that from Zaire for the rest of the season, that'll be great. He's only a sophomore, so he's just one more in a group of sophomores that we have."
Norwalk raised its record to 10-5 while Darien fell to 3-13 and was eliminated from state tournament contention.
NORWALK 65, DARIEN 53
George Phillips 1 0-0 2Bobby Fitzpatrick 1 0-0 2 Brian Wiegand 0 0-0 0 Liam Naughton 8 1-1 21 Ames Murray 4 2-2 10 Henry Baldwin 2 0-0 4 Charlie Travers 3 0-0 6 Ian Burgoyne 2 2-4 6 Kyle Green 1 0-0 2 Hudson Hamill 0 2-2 2. Totals: 22 7-9 53
Sean Butler 0 0-0 Saeed Soulemane 6 2-4 14 Roy Kane 3 10-12 16 Jabari Dear 1 2-4 4 Nick Boccanfuso 3 0-0 6 Jeremy Linton 3 4-5 11 Luke Sweeney 1 0-0 2 Zaire Wilson 4 3-7 12 Thomas Barrett 0 0- 0 Totals: 21 21-32 65.
DARIEN 19 10 9 15--53
NORWALK 11 14 22 18--65
3-pointers: D--Liam Naughton 4, N--Jeremy Linton, Zaire Wilson