Wednesday night in Wilton it was a classic small school showdown. You had one of the better teams in Division III in Mascenic vs. one of the better teams in D-IV in Wilton-Lyndeborough. The schools are rivals, only being 30 minutes apart and even though they're in different divisions they play each other twice each season.
"We knew it was going to be a close game, it always is with them" said Wilton-Lyndeborough head coach Ken Garnham. "Last year at their place it was a 1 point game."
It was also a match up of senior point guards Jordan Litts from Wilton and Mascenic's Jared Stauffeneker. Litts and Stauffeneker have flown under the radar playing in D-III / D-IV and in obscure towns, but there's no question they're 2 of the top players in the state.
Litts scored a team-high 22 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks to lead the Warriors to a 66-61 win. Stauffeneker dropped a game-high 30 points, including six 3-pointers in defeat.
Litts and teammate Casey Lane (8 clutch points in 4th quarter) both hit a pair of 3's late in the 4th quarter, and Wilton also got strong contributions from the Carrier brothers, Ty (19 points) and Trey (15 points).
"It was a team effort" said Coach Garnham. "We had different kids make big shots, big stops and big rebounds. Connor Melrose did a nice job defensively. Last year we were one dimensional with Jordan, not anymore."
The Bells from Bishop Brady aren't the only brothers who are part of a 'Big 3'. Wilton's version of the 'Big 3' is Litts and the Carrier brothers, and tonight all 3 of them scored 15+ points and were major factors on both ends of the floor.
"We folded in games like this last year" said Litts. "But through the last 5-6 games we've built self confidence. Teams can't double or triple team me anymore. Now, if I pass it then someone else will hit the shot."
Wilton needed to hit some shots, as they trailed Mascenic 50-41 midway through the 4th quarter. Their backs were against the wall. Ty Carrier (a 6-foot-1 junior wing) and Litts hit back-to-back 3's and just like that the Vikings' lead was down to 50-47 with 4:21 left in the 4th quarter.
Lane tied it up 52-52 with a his first 3 of the game. Litts drilled another 3 off the dribble to put the Warriors back on top 55-52 and then Lane buried yet another 3 ball to make it 58-53 Wilton and cap a 17-3 run for the Warriors.
"We didn't execute well on offense down the stretch" lamented Mascenic head coach Jason Starr. "Our shot selection could have been better. They made more plays down the stretch to win."
Mascenic was down 5 late but they kept fighting. Daimon Gibson hit a 3-pointer to cut the Wilton lead to 58-56. The Warriors quickly answered with a layup by Lane but Stauffeneker drilled his sixth 3-pointer of the game to cut the Wilton lead to 60-59 with 1:30 left in the 4th quarter. It was still anyone's game.
Wilton ball, looking to run some clock while Mascenic rushed around the floor trying to force a steal. They got it over to Ty Carrier, who hit the biggest shot of the game, his fourth 3-pointer of the contest and it was 63-59 Wilton with just 30 seconds left. Ty Carrier then made 1 of 2 FT's and it was 64-61 Warriors with 14.5 seconds remaining.
Mascenic that got the ball back with one more chance, trailing 64-61. Stauffeneker raced up the floor with the ball. Wilton didn't want to let him shoot so they had 2 defenders on him. As he crossed mid-court, Stauffeneker zipped a pass over to Gibson in the right corner. Gibson was open and took the shot for the tie, but it just rimmed out. Litts pulled down the rebound, got fouled, hit both foul shots and Wilton wins it 66-61.
"He pushed it to the middle of the floor and Gibson got an open look" said Coach Starr. "I was confident he could make it. He hit that same shot to win a game vs. Monadnock last year."
Wilton was the sharper team early on, starting the game off on a 7-0 run on their home court. Melrose made a nice steal and took it hard to the rim for an easy layup. Then Trey Carrier made a good play on defense by stripping Stauffeneker of the basketball as he went up for a layup. Then his brother Ty converted a pair of fast break layups and it was 7-0 Warriors.
Mascenic finally got on the board, as Stauffeneker hit a 3-pointer off the dribble. But then Wilton went on a 6-0 run, as Trey Carrier hit a step-back jumper from 15-feet, Litts drove the lane for a finger roll and then Wilton got a quick steal followed by a double-pump layup by Trey Carrier. The Warriors were really clicking early on, up 13-3.
Stauffeneker was keeping Mascenic in it though, as he hit 2 more 3's to cut the Wilton lead to 13-9.
"I respect him, he's a great shooter" said Litts. "You have to stick with him."
It was 15-9 Wilton after 1 quarter. All 9 of the Vikings' points came on 3's by Stauffeneker. He has a quick release, good form, can shoot off the catch or the dribble and is able to get open because he's too quick for most defenders to stay with.
"If he doesn't knock down those 3's in the beginning we're down 15 points and wouldn't even be in the game" said Coach Starr. "He's seen everything, box-and-1's, triangle-and-2's. He's used to it."
Try Carrier hit a 3 early in the 2nd quarter to push the Wilton lead back up to 18-10, but then it was Stauffeneker with another 3 off the bounce to cut it to 18-13 (from about 4 feet behind the arc). Then his younger brother Brett Stauffeneker (a 6-foot-1 sophomore) came off the bench and immediately buried a 3 of his own. That tied it up 18-18 with 4:00 left in the 1st half. Mascenic then took their first lead of the game, as Jared Nolin cut baseline, caught the pass in stride and finished the layup for a 20-18 Vikings' lead.
Litts made a good dish to Lane for a layup and we were tied back up, 20-20. Mascenic answered right back, pushing it in transition as Nolin converted the layup and it was 22-20 Vikings. Wilton held for the last shot of the half. They worked the ball around the perimeter, but Mascenic did a good job of denying the dribble penetration. Ty Carrier got it at the top of the key. He had a defender right on him, but time was running out so he had to shoot it - nothing but net at the buzzer, and Mascenic goes into halftime with a 26-25 lead.
Ty Carrier ended the 1st half with a 3 and that's how he began the 2nd half, hitting another shot from the outside as Wilton re-takes the lead 28-26. See, these Carrier brothers are pretty good. I wasn't joking when I called them and Litts the 'Big 3' for Wilton. They will give teams in D-IV a lot of trouble the rest of the way.
Stauffeneker came right back by hitting a runner and tying it up 28-28. Just seconds later it was Litts' turn to take over. He drove the lane strong and hit a finger roll. Then after a turnaround jumper b Stauffeneker, Litts made a pair of great passes (an assist to Ty Carrier on the fast break and an inside dish to Trey Carrier for a layup). Then Litts hit a 3-pointer, and it was 37-31 Warriors.
"Jordan Litts is a great player" said Coach Starr. "He's one of the best players in the state."
Mascenic was now in a 2-3 zone to try and slow down the Wilton offense, while Wilton went to a box-and-1 with Ty Carrier covering Stauffeneker to try and slow him down.
Trey Carrier made a great second effort inside, going up strong with a put-back attempt, getting fouled and hitting both shots. The Warriors' lead grew to 39-32. Mascenic needed a score, and with Jared Stauffeneker being guarded tightly it was his little brother Brett Stauffeneker who hit another 3.
Little also showed good effort on the offensive boards, using his tenacity and leaping ability to rebound his own miss and put it back in. Brett Stauffeneker hit another 3 ball for the Vikings, and it was 41-39 Wilton. Then came a big no-call, as Jared Stauffeneker attempted a 3 at the buzzer and it looked like he may have gotten fouled on the shot but the officials didn't make the call. His shot was no good, and it was 41-40 Warriors headed to the 4th quarter. Mascenic fans were furious that Stauffeneker wasn't at the line for 3 FTs.
Perhaps the Vikings used that to get them fired up, as they got off to a strong start in the 4th quarter with a 10-0 run. Gibson hit a 3 to put Mascenic back ahead 43-41. Teammate Roman Ojala knifed his way to the rim for 2 and Jared Stauffeneker hit a 3 off a baseline out of bounds play. Mascenic got a steal, and Jared Stauffeneker capped the run by pushing the ball hard up the floor and when no one on Wilton stopped the ball he took it all the way to the rim for the layup and a 50-41 lead for Mascenic. You know how the rest went by reading above.
Stauffeneker scored a career-high 57 points in a single game as a sophomore, and reached the 1,000 point plateau last season as a junior. It was a pleasure to watch him and Litts battle it out in the same game. Look for both teams to contend for a Final Four spot in their respective divisions.