Behind 30 points from Riley Fox, Conard boys basketball upsets Northwest Catholic

WEST HARTFORD -– Sure Conard senior Riley Fox had 30 points, hit a clutch 3-pointer with 22 seconds left and then added two free throws to give his team a lead with 13 seconds left.

But it was his defense on a last-second shot by Northwest Catholic senior guard Gianni Mirabello that won the game.

With 8.7 seconds left, Fox positioned his 6-foot-6 frame in front of Mirabello, who still got the shot off, but it hit the rim and bounced away and Conard defeated Northwest Catholic 62-61 in a CCC West boys basketball game Tuesday afternoon.

It was Northwest’s second straight close loss. The Lions (9-2) lost to Windsor 76-71 on Saturday as Mirabello, a senior guard, had 25 points.

“We were face-guarding Gianni all game but we switched and I guarded him the last possession and tried to use my length,” Fox said.

“He almost hit the fadeaway. That looked good. It was scary. I thought it was going to bounce off the backboard and go in. That would have crushed me.”

It’s been that kind of up-and-down season for Conard (6-5), which has a young team to go along with Fox, who will play at Yale next year. Last week, the Red Wolves beat Manchester by two points then lost to Hall by four the next day. Their schedule has been tough; they’ve lost to East Catholic, Windsor, Farmington, Hall and Northwest earlier in the season.

“It’s mentally draining,” Conard coach Jared Leghorn said. “We’re playing a Tier I schedule. There’s no nights off.

“They say, ‘It gets you ready for March,’ but when you’re going against Hall and Northwest and Manchester and Farmington and East Catholic – it’s hard to stay positive but these guys are doing it.”

Conard led 13-9 after one quarter and took a 29-16 lead late in the second after a Fox drive and layup.

“The last couple games, people have been flat out sending doubles and triples at him,” Leghorn said. “So the last few days in practice we’ve been trying to simulate that best we could and really talking about the other guys to be available and go make a play. Riley is a willing passer.”

His younger brother Aidan was a main recipient — he had 22 points.

But in the second half, Northwest chipped away at the lead. Mirabello had 11 points in the third quarter and when Liam Conklin hit two free throws with 0.8 seconds left in the third, the Lions had come back to within one, 40-39.

Ryan Tolliver made some big plays for Northwest in the fourth, grabbing an offensive rebound and putting it back to give the Lions a 41-40 lead to open the quarter. He also had a three-point play to tie the score at 46 with 5:47 left and hit another big shot to boost Northwest to a 54-50 lead.

But then Fox, who also had 14 rebounds, went to work. He hit two free throws with 3 minutes left then a 3-pointer to cut Northwest’s lead to 58-57 with 1:44 left. Mirabello answered with a 3 of his own; Fox countered with another with 22 seconds left to cut the lead to 61-60. Northwest missed a pair of free throws, then Fox was fouled and hit both of his with 13.2 seconds left to give Conard the one-point lead.

“My outside shot wasn’t falling off the dribble but I hit a couple big 3s,” Fox said. “I know once I get the shots going, they’re going to start falling eventually.”

Said Leghorn: “You’re a 6-6 D1 athlete – go make the stop. And he did. Credit to him. He missed a lot of shots today but then you go and win it with your defense, your rebounding and hit a couple clutch free throws.”

“It was a great win,” Fox said.