Heading into last week’s early-season test against Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference (FCIAC) power Danbury, Joel Barlow High head boys basketball coach Matt Whelan challenged his team to play with heart and desire.
The Falcons showed it on the court on Friday, Dec. 28., giving the host Hatters all they could handle and then some in a exciting but heart breaking 68-58 overtime loss. It was the first game between the two teams in more than 20 years.
Perhaps taking the Falcons lightly, the Hatters fell behind. It quickly became apparent that this was going to be a battle.
“The kids came out with a ton of positive energy,” said Whelan. “We were not intimated by Danbury or their crowd. The kids were ready.”
And ready they were as the Falcons ended the first quarter with a two-point lead as Phil Moriber (18 points) and Jack Pantalena (10 points, 12 rebounds) quickly established that this is a much different Barlow team that lost to Bethel in the Tip-Off Classic,
Perhaps the turning point came in the third quarter. The Falcons made several turnovers and missed a few shots while the Hatters went on a 14-0 run to take control.
“That run hurt but the kids never gave up, even when we were down 8-10 points,” said Whelan. “Everyone was positive and kept fighting. We never taught we were out of it.”
Time and time again the Falcons fought back and when Jack Gallagher (eight points) hit a three-pointer with 16 seconds in regulation time to tie the game, the hometown crowd was stunned, as were the Hatters. Danbury still had some time left but defense by Finn Cohane, and Liam Rooney denied Danbury and C.J. White of a game-winning shot, forcing overtime.
But this was not going to be Barlow’s day. Moriber quickly gave the Falcons the early lead in overtime but a 5-0 run by Danbury doomed the visitors as White scored six of his game-high 37 in the extra stanza to secure the win.
“We had no answer for White, but what can I say about my guys?” asked Whelan. “They played so hard, they bring this intensity and heart every night. We are going to surprise a lot of teams, but that is a big if, right now. There is no such things as moral victories here. We need to play consistent hard nose, smart ball, and we will surprise a few teams.”
By all means they certainly surprised and scared the Hatters.
Note: Whelan and the Falcons will be in Easton to conduct a clinic in late January for Easton Parks and Recreation. Times and dates will be announced.