LaVista Tournament champions
NEW CANAAN -- Now in his third season as head coach of the Darien High boys basketball team, Kyle Marian is living by a motto that speaks to visions of a bright future for his oft-struggling program: "Turn the tide."
"This program has been down for so long," Marian said. "What we're really trying to do right now is turn that tide and make it into something moving forward that we're not at the bottom of the league every year."
Although the season is roughly only three weeks old, Darien is already showing signs of changing its fortunes around after slumbering to a 2-18 finish a year ago.
Trailing Staples by as many as 13 points in the first half on Monday afternoon, the Blue Wave rallied to pull out a 50-47 victory over the Wreckers in the LaVista Tournament final at New Canaan High School.
Darien junior guard Matt Staubi, a transfer from Rye Country Day School, led all scorers with 23 points and earned Tournament MVP honors. Staubi put in the Blue Wave's final seven points, including two free throws with 21 seconds left to push the lead to three.
The Blue Wave (2-3), which trailed 29-21 at halftime and by four points after three quarters, took only its third lead with 2:07 left on a 3-pointer by Staubi. Following two missed free throws by Staples guard Peter Rankowitz, Staubi hit a bucket to put the Blue Wave ahead 48-45 with 48 seconds left.
"Going into halftime, we came together as a team," Staubi said. "We really wanted to come out and get this championship. We haven't won this, I think, ever since we've been in this."
Darien had a chance to create more separation on the scoreboard late following an intentional foul called on Staples' Joe Greenwald, but Darien's Ian Burgoyne missed two free throws. With the Blue Wave retaining possession of the ball, Staubi calmly stepped to the line following a foul and hit both his attempts, making it 50-47 with 21 seconds left.
The Wreckers had three chances from behind the arc to knot the game on their final possession, but two 3-point attempts by Rankowitz and another by guard David Katz clanged off the rim.
"We had a couple good looks," Staples head coach Colin Devine said. "Next game we'll knock them down."
Staples, which got 18 points from guard James Frusciante and 15 from Rankowitz, led for nearly the entirety of the game. The Blue Wave scored the game's first bucket, to which the Wreckers responded with a 7-0 run.
The Wreckers (3-2) led 21-10 after the first quarter and went ahead by as many as 12 points in the second. But after slicing through Darien's man-to-man defense early, the Wreckers weren't nearly as effective against a zone look late.
"You've got to credit (Darien)," Devine said. "They changed from man to zone. Darien did a good job and we've got to get the right people the right shots at the right time."
Staples also found it difficult to drive into the paint and avoid Darien center Chima Azuonwu, who obstructed several shooting attempts. The 6-foot-10 junior, who moved from Nigeria during the summer, pulled down 17 rebounds and scored nine points.
"He's a game-changer," Devine said.
Trailing 43-40 early in the fourth, Staples tied it on one of Rankowitz's three 3-pointers. The Wreckers regained the lead 45-43 on a pair of free throws by Frusciante. Just seconds later, Staubi put Darien ahead for good with a trey.
"He's a battler. He's a year-round basketball player," Marian said of Staubi. "He's been in a lot of different situations in his career. ... He's a gritty kid."
"I was very impressed with our tenacity to just come back. ... To come back and keep battling, keep battling shows where we're at as a program, which is nice to see," Marian said.
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DARIEN 50, STAPLES 47
Alex Addessi 0 6-8 6 Nicolaas Esposito 0 0-0 0 James Frusciante 3 11-14 18 Joe Greenwald 1 0-0 2 David Katz 0 0-0 0 Jacob Melnick 0 0-0 0 Andrew Felman 0 0-0 0 Peter Rankowitz 6 0-2 15 Nick Ward 0 0-0 0 Ross Whelan 2 0-0 4 Darryle Wiggins 1 0-0 2 Todd Goldstein 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 17-24 47.
Chima Azuonwu 4 1-3 9 George Phillips 2 0-0 4 Bobby Fitzpatrick 0 0-0 0 Brian Wiegand 0 0-0 0 Liam Naughton 1 0-0 2 Charles Travers 0 0-0 0 Colin Sullivan 0 0-0 0 Matt Staubi 9 5-6 23 Henry Baldwin 1 0-0 2 Kyle Green 0 0-0 0 Ian Burgoyne 4 0-0 8 Ames Murray 1 0-0 2. Totals 22 6-9 50.
STAPLES 21 8 9 9--47
DARIEN 10 11 13 16--50
3-pointers: S--Rankowitz 3, Frusciante. D--Staubi 2.