In a hotly contested and emotionally charged game, the Norwalk boys basketball team held off a feisty Trumbull squad 65-55.
But as the Bears walked off their home court on Tuesday night, not many players or coaches were smiling.
"We are not happy with the way we played," said Norwalk coach Thomas Keyes. "I'm not happy. Our seniors shouldn't be happy, the freshman team sitting in the stands should not be pleased. We need to get better."
Trumbull played much better than their 2-10 record indicated. Led by sharpshooter Rashard Rodriquez, the Eagles beat Norwalk's zone by launching shots from outside the arc. Rodriquez hit three, 3-point shots within a two minute span to give Trumbull a surprising 20-12 first quarter lead.
Rodriquez finished with a team-high 22 points.
"They didn't really surprise us," said Norwalk guard Jabari Dear, who finished with 23 points. "Coach told us that No. 13 (Rodriquez) could shoot. He just wasn't missing."
Norwalk (10-4) found its legs and energy in the second quarter. The Bears went on a 12-3 run, keyed by the strong inside play of Roy Kane Jr. The 6-foot-5 sophomore was a force down low, outhustling Trumbull to the ball. He made back-to-back baskets with 2:28 left in the quarter to give Norwalk a 24-23.
"We got off to a slow start," Kane said. "Trumbull played us tough, but we struggled early on. But we started to get hot in the second quarter."
Kane put the Bears up 30-28 with a put-back before Luke Waldek of Trumbull scored on a lay-up just before the first-half buzzer sounded to make it 30-30 at the break.
The teams continued to trade baskets for most of the third quarter. With Norwalk holding a slim 45-43 lead with 25 seconds to go in the period, Kane electrified the crowd and ignited the Bears with a spectacular play.
Kane beat his man near the top of the key and had clear path to the basket. Rising above the rim, Kane threw done a one-handed dunk that brought the Norwalk crowd to its feet.
"That was big," Kane said sheepishly. "The lane just opened up, so I wasn't going to lay it up. I had to throw it down. It energized the crowd."
Added teammate Jeremy Linton, who finished with 10 points: "It hyped up the crowd and made us play better. When they're into it, it definitely makes us play better."
Kane scored four points of his 16 points shortly after his dunk to help Norwalk open up a 53-43 lead. Trumbull got to within six points with Ryan McCabe's three-pointer from the wing. Jabari Dear answered with a 3-ball of his own to push the lead back to 10.
With the clock winding down, Dear put an exclamation point on the victory with a thunderous dunk to give the Bears a 65-55 victory.
"I told my teammates during the timeout that I was going to get a dunk to end the game," Dear said. "It felt pretty good."
Still, the coach didn't see anything to really celebrate.
"We need to get better," said Keyes. "Hats off to Trumbull, they played a great game. We didn't play well. I can't put my finger on it, but we will fix it with hard work. If that's the kind of basketball we're playing in late January, that's not a good sign. We need to play a lot better."