Had the Trumbull High boys basketball team played a full 48 minutes as well as it performed over the final three quarters during its FCIAC match up against undefeated Norwalk on Jan. 6, the Eagles could have easily walked off Scarso Gymnasium on the positive side of the scoreboard.

But Trumbull just couldn’t make up for a painfully slow start, allowing the talented Bears to turn an early 18-point lead into a 71-62 victory.

Trumbull opened the game in a zone defense in an attempt to contain Norwalk’s athletic starting lineup, led by 6-foot-6 senior forward Roy Kane Jr.

But senior guard Jeremy Linton foiled the plan quickly, hitting five of his game-high seven 3-pointers in the first quarter, helping the Bears (5-0) take a 26-10 lead.

A bucket by Davante Thomas put Norwalk up 28-10 early in the second.

Trumbull (2-2) made a spirited comeback after switching to a man-to-man defense, out-scoring Norwalk 18-11 in the second quarter to get to within 37-28 at halftime.

Senior Rashard Rodriguez spear-headed the charge, finishing with a game-high 20 points, including a team-high three 3-pointers, four rebounds, two blocks and two assists.

But the early deficit was too much to overcome.

Linton finished with 15 points while Kane posted a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

“We tried to zone them early but the kid Linton was knocking down every shot,” Trumbull coach Buddy Bray said. “We really hadn’t seen that when we scouted them. But obviously he made shots that hurt us.

“Give Norwalk credit. You can’t come down here and not play well early. You can get away with a few minutes, but not an entire quarter.”

The deciding moment came with 2:11 left in the third quarter. Trumbull was building momentum, using its defensive adjustment and a 9-6 run to get to within 43-37, the closest the Eagles would get all night. But Rodriguez was hit with a dubious charge call while dribbling the ball up court and was forced to the bench with four fouls. That sapped all the energy out of the Eagles.

Norwalk responded with consecutive 3-pointers from Kane and Linton to take a 49-37 lead. Trumbull never got closer than eight points over the final nine minutes.

“That hurt. He was really scoring at that point,” Bray said of losing Rodriguez. “It was a pretty tough call, but you can’t chase a team like Norwalk. You gotta be ready to go or this is what happens.”

If anything, the Eagles came away knowing they can play man-to-man against the best the FCIAC has to offer in terms of athleticism.

The Eagles heated up offensively in the second quarter behind the play of Rodriguez, senior Eddie McElroy (10 points, two 3-pointers) and senior Billy Brown (seven points), who did a fantastic job distributing the ball, finishing with six assists.

But it was Trumbull’s defensive effort that really helped the Eagles close the gap with junior Bennett McCullough frustrating Kane Jr. for a long stretch in the second and third quarters.

McElroy also contained Linton over the final three quarters, limiting him to just a pair of 3-pointers after his first-quarter barrage.

“We didn’t like the matchups when we scouted them so we decided to go to a zone,” Bray said. “We did a much better job as the game went on and I think we learned some things about what we can do with our man-to-man moving forward.”

Trumbull also had solid performances off the bench from senior Brandon Owen, whose hustle and ball-handling earned him two points, three assists, two rebounds and one blocked shot.

Junior Jack Moore made two 3-pointers while senior Frank Puglia (five points) added another. Starting swingman Chris Lyons also hit a 3-pointer to go along with five rebounds and one assist.

“We saw some positives,” Bray said. “We just have to keep working hard, but we can definitely learn from this.”

Trumbull will host Wilton on Friday at 7.