McKnight, Dzurenda lift Cadets to win

Right from the opening tip, the third-ranked St. Joseph Cadets knew they were in for a battle with FCIAC boys basketball foe Bridgeport Central at the Vito Montelli Gymnasium on Thursday.

The Hilltoppers (11-4, 11-4 FCIAC) took it to the Cadets (15-1, 13-1 FCIAC) in a game of cat-and-mouse that continued throughout.

St. Joseph finally sealed the win in the final minute with a Jonny Dzurenda layup and foul shot, before Quincy McKnight added the icing to the 85-81 win with a thunderous dunk.

“They scouted us, they knew what we’re going to do tonight,” Cadet coach Chris Watts said. “Every time we ran something, they had a counter... And they really played some defense tonight.”

McKnight led all scorers with 31 points, Dzurenda finished with 20, Rick Langston 13 and Jake Pelletier 10.

ShaQuan Bretoux led the Hilltoppers with 23 points, while Tyler Ancrum and Marcus Blackwell each had 19. Ricky Grant added 10 for Bridgeport Central.

Ancrum got things started with a 3-pointer off a turnover and then Bretoux capitalized on a second mistake with a jump shot and a foul to make it 6-2 early.

St. Joseph answered with a Dzurenda floater and a McKnight putback to knot it at 6.

The Cadets took a 26-25 lead into the second period.

It was all St. Joseph in the second stanza, as the locals put together a 14-2 run behind treys from Langston and McKnight, two McKnight layups, a Dzurenda jumper and a bank shot from Steve Hashemi.

The Cadets added a 6-0 run before two jump shots from Grant and four points from Bretoux to give the Cadets a 50-40 halftime lead.

“We shared the ball pretty well and in the second quarter and we were able to get a little cushion going into the half,” Watts said. “Coming out, they decided they wanted to dig in.

“They were not going to quit and we got to a point when we said OK, it’s going to come down to the wire.”

The Hilltoppers came out fighting in the second half, playing intense defense and forcing the Cadets out of their comfort zone.

Central took away St. Joseph’s bread-and-butter, the outside shot, and forced them to score through the paint.

McKnight accepted the challenge and answered nearly every Central score with a layup.

Pelletier worked to get open and buried a 3-pointer and Raekwon Reid knocked down a jumper and the Cadets took a 68-60 lead into the final frame.

“Our captains stepped up, Jake Pelletier stepped up, Quincy (McKnight) stepped up,” Watts said.  “It’s not a surprise. Jake steps up every game for us. It’s all five of them. I can’t say that its three guys that make it up.

“As a whole, the guys really dug in tonight. They knew it was going to be a tough one. As a group we played pretty well. It was a battle.”

Central went on a 6-2 run on two Ancrum layups and Bretoux’ layup and foul shot to make it a three-point game.

After a Langston layup, Blackwell’s three-point play cut the margin to two.

McKnight answered with a bucket before Dzurenda nailed a floating jumper in the lane to make it a five-point lead.

Central answered with layups from Antoine Pettway and Blackwell, before Pelletier made a key steal and got fouled going in for the layup. His free throws put St. Joseph in front, 80-77.

Bretoux’s layup made it a one-point game, but Dzurenda nailed a layup with a foul shot to follow and it was 83-79.

McKnight dunk made it 85-79 to seal the tough win.

“This game here is going to make us stronger for the next game,” Watts said. “If we keep getting into these battles and these kids keep having each other’s backs and they keep wanted to fight for each other, that’s key. Everyone is equal and everyone is working and fighting together.”

St. Joseph put it to Norwalk High on Wednesday when the Cadets scored 30 points in the opening quarter en route to a 90-65 FCIAC boys basketball home victory.

Pelletier made four 3-pointers and went 6-for-6 at the foul line to finish with 26 points.

Dzurenda scored 23 points, including a trio from long-range.

McKnight had 22 points to help beat the Bears (11-5).