WESTPORT, Conn. – After a four-game losing streak left the Staples High School boys basketball team with a 3-5 record in mid-January, coach Colin Devine looked ahead, not back.
The result has been six wins in seven games, including a pulsating 53-50 win over Westhill on Friday. Now, the Wreckers (10-6 overall, 9-5 in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference) are closing in a league playoff berth and are playing as well as any team in the league.
“We started our season with 12 games to go,’’ Devine said. “Let’s see what we can do from here on out. We thought with toughness and hard work, we could get it done.”
Defense has made the difference. The Wreckers allowed an average of 55.1 points in their first eight games but have allowed only 46.4 in the last eight. Their only loss in that span is a 62-59 decision to St. Joseph, which has just one league loss.
“It all starts with defense,’’ senior Peter Rankowitz said. “The first thing we do when we come to practice is work on defense. We know that’s going to be the most important thing to helping us win.”
Staples was at its defensive best against Westhill. The Vikings, who saw their first league loss, scored nearly 10 points under their season average. Jeremiah Livingston scored 17 for the Vikings, but Staples did an outstanding job of holding down the rest of Westhill’s lineup. Brothers Yveson and Guyveson Cassamajor, who came in averaging a combined 17 per game, were held to six.
“It was a tough matchup for us because they’re so quick,’’ said Rankowitz, who will continue his career at Washington University in St. Louis. “Livingston’s a great player. We just tried to keep him out of the paint the best we could, made sure we got the rebound and stayed physical with them.”
Now, Staples could be a huge factor in the league tournament. The Wreckers have four games left, and three of those opponents have records of .500 or below. The only team with a winning record left on their schedule is Bassick (9-7).
Staples' early slump mystified many. But the win over Westhill proves it is not a team to be taken lightly.
“This win gives us a lot of confidence,’’ said Rankowitz, who scored a game-high 23 points and was a force with his defense, rebounding and passing. “We beat a team that was undefeated in the league. I think it proves we can played with anyone.”