FAIRFIELD — St. Joseph’s style of play was perfect for three-plus quarters when the 16th-seeded Cadets trailed No. 4 New Canaan by one point after three quarters of their Division IV state semifinal game at Fairfield Warde on Tuesday night.
Coach Kevin Wielk’s club showed the hard-nosed defense and fearless play inside that had made this a turnaround season.
Then Alexander Gibbens, whose barrage of three-pointers had propelled the Rams throughout, nailed his fifth long-range jumper to stake his club to a 50-41 lead with 2:15 remaining.
New Canaan (19-4) went on to win a 62-51 decision and advance to its first state final since 1989.
The Rams will play No 3. Granby Memorial (20-3) in the final.
“I believed in them from day one,” Wielk said. “I told them I like the talent in this room. We fought together every step of the way all season. I’m proud of them.”
Stephen Paolini scored 17 points and pulled down six rebounds to lead the Cadets, who finished 14-10 after winning three consecutive state games.
Brendan Kade had 12 points.
Dan Tobin (three blocked shots) and Paul Fabbri had nine points each.
Jason James had five assists.
Gibben finished with 16 points and Matt Brand played inside to his outside output and finished with 21 markers.
Paolini scored nine points to stake St. Joe to a 14-8 lead in the first quarter.
Gibben made a trio of three-pointers in the second stanza, and New Canaan broke the game’s sixth tie on a Brand layup for a 26-24 halftime advantage.
Will Diamantis and Tyler DuBose provided good play off the bench in the frame, with Diamantis scoring a bucket and taking down two rebounds.
Kade tied the game to open the third, before the Rams scored on 3-of-4 possessions punctuated by a resounding dunk by brand.
Tobin dulled the roar and brought Cadet faithful to their feet when he rebounded a missed shot and turned it into an answering three-point play.
Down 37-29 with 3:29 left in the third, the Cadets came back.
Paolini’s drive in traffic resulted in two free throws.
Tobin forced a turnover and Paolini drained a three.
Glenn Manigault came in to grab a defensive board, and the sophomore guard’s steal led to Paolini’s assist on Kade’s jumper to end the period.
New Canaan scored on its first trip down the floor in the fourth quarter — and didn’t stop there.
The Rams made five possessions count for 10 points and a 47-39 lead.
Again, the Cadets countered but this time it didn’t stick.
Kade scored from the baseline, and the Cadets had two more chances to narrow its 47-41 deficit only to come away empty.
Gibbens then arched the arrow-shot that proved timeless.
Forced to press, and foul, St. Joe saw the Rams score on six straight trips to take control.
Tobin had two buckets and Fabbri scored six points down the stretch.
“New Canaan is a talented, tough well-coached team,” Wielk said. “We knew if they were going to make those (perimeter) shots it was going to be a tough night.”
NEW CANAAN 62, ST. JOSEPH 51
St. Joseph (14-10)
Stephen Paolini 5 7-7 17, Dan Tobin 4 1-1 9, Paul Fabbri 2 4-4 9, Brendan Kade 5 0-1 12, Jason James 1 0-0 2, Glen Manigault 0 0-0 0, Tyler DuBose 0 0-0 0, Will Diamantis 1 0-0 2.
Totals: 18 12-13 51
New Canaan (19-4)
Matt Brand 8 5-5 21, Ben Sarda 1 2-2 5, Alex Gibben 5 1-2 16, Ryan McAleer 2 3-6 7, Christian Sweeney 0 0-0 0, Luke Rwambuya 1 0-0 2, Will Bozzella 0 0-0 0, Stephen Wronski 2 1-1 5, Jack Richardson 3 0-1 6, Conor West 0 0-0 0
Totals: 22 12-17 62
Scoring by Quarters
St. Joseph – 14 10 12 15 – 51
New Canaan – 8 18 11 25 – 62
3-Pointers: SJ-Kade 2, Fabbri; NC-Gibben 5, Sarda