Fairfield Prep beats Hillhouse, stakes claim to No. 1

Round two of Fairfield Prep vs. Hillhouse didn’t have the build-up, it didn’t have the fanfare, it didn’t have the crowd.

And it didn’t have the same result.

Fairfield Prep's Paschal Chukwu

Fairfield Prep's Paschal Chukwu

The Jesuits played strong defense, building a 15-point lead, and held on for a 57-52 win over the Academics at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven.

Paschal Chukwu led Prep with 16 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks as the Jesuits avenged a Jan. 15 defeat in Fairfield. Freshman Ryan Murphy scored 14, and Tim Butala added 13.

The Jesuits not only beat Hillhouse for the first time but also registered a high-score against the Academics for this year.

Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton called his team’s performance “flat” and said “We came out … with the attitude that we’re Hillhouse, and we don’t have to play the game. As good as we are, we still have to play the game.”

Andre Anderson scored a game-high 18 for Hillhouse.

Dave Zielinski has been an enigma in his two years on varsity for Prep.

Yet, according to Jesuits’ coach Leo Redgate, he’s finally starting to come around.

“He’s come a long way,” Redgate said. “He didn’t play the first third of the season, because he wasn’t there. He wasn’t doing what we wanted him to do … I think once he realizes he’s one of the best shooters in the state … if we get him in a position to be successful, he’s going to really help us.”

Zielinski was the Jesuits’ only bench player, as the junior knocked down two 3-pointers– including a clutch trifecta that built Prep’s lead to 55-51 with 2:23 left. Hillhouse had cut Prep’s advantage from 15 to just one in a five minute span.

Zielinski admitted he didn’t realize the shot’s importance until after the game.

“It was just a three at the time,” he said. “But after the game, I realized how big of a shot it was.”

Redgate also credited his defense off the bench.

“He did a great job on (Anderson),” Redgate said. “He was very good face-guarding.”

Though it appeared the Academics were settling for jump shots, Sutton told me that’s how his team lives, offensively.

“That’s who we are,” he said. “We score the ball off of defense, and we score the ball off the 3-point shot.”

Sutton also admitted he expects the Jesuits and Academics to meet again.

“We know we’re not invincible now,” he said. “When we see them again — and we will — the turnout will be different.”

I’d expect to see these teams play again twice.

Murphy and Redgate both told me they were pleased to unseat the previously unbeaten Academics.

“I would argue, we played them twice, and the jury is out,” Redgate said. “I don’t think we’re intimidated by them … A good coach has his guys believing they can beat anyone.”

“It’s a big win for us,” Murphy said. “The crowd was crazy … Hillhouse is a great team.”

Pat Pickens is the sports editor of the Fairfield Citizen, a Hearst Connecticut Newspaper. Follow him on Twitter here.