The Fieldston boys basketball team is in the midst of a very successful season. But the Eagles were banished to the basement gym last Friday for their game versus Ivy League foe Trinity.
It wasn’t a punishment of any sort. There were some mechanical problems, forcing their relocation.
“The panel that separates the courts got broken and wouldn’t close, so we had to come down here,” senior star Jared Maharaj said. “But that’s OK, we like it down here. It’s a lot louder and the atmosphere is a lot more fun.”
Luckily, the malfunctioning divider wall on the upstairs court was the only thing that went wrong for Fieldson last Friday as the Eagles exacted some revenge from an earlier loss to Trinity with a convincing 59-36 victory.
The win boosted the Eagles overall record to 11-4, and 6-2 in the Ivy League, right on the heels of a one-loss Dalton team. But the rematch with Trinity was one the Eagles were waiting on following a three-point loss on Jan. 10.
“I didn’t have to say much to them,” Fieldston head coach Rafael Salazar said. “All I said was, ‘Let’s get back to our game plan.’ And as you could see, our best player just took over the game.”
That would be Maharaj, the Eagles’ senior star who lit up Trinity for a game-high 25 points on 11-of-17 shooting from the field. It was a must-win game, for Fieldston.
“It was on our mind for a really long time,” Maharaj said. “This week in practice, we went extra hard the whole time for this game, especially with our families coming out.”
Yes, the basement gym was full of FIeldston family and friends, and the acoustics of it were at times deafening. A lot of that could be blamed on Maharaj’s exploits, especially in the second half when he scored 14 of his 25 points.
Trinity jumped out to a 14-4 lead to open the game, but unlike the first meeting, when foul trouble forced the Eagles to abandon their vaunted press defense for a more passive zone approach, Fieldson simply went to work on its own defense, ultimately leading to an offensive surge.
Fieldston managed to pull within 14-11 by the end of the first quarter, and then took over in the second, outscoring the Tigers 19-5 to take a 30-19 lead at the half. If the Eagles’ pressure defense was good in the second, it only got better in the third as Fieldston blew open the game behind Maharaj’s 12 points, building a 46-29 lead going into the final stanza.
Trinity never got closer than 15 points the rest of the way.
So with more than 20 points, three steals and eight rebounds, was this just another typical game for Maharaj?
“I’d like to think so,” he said with a smile.
“It’s just a matter of time before he blows up in a game,” Salazar said. “They beat us by three the last time we played them. That was my fault. I tried to protect my guys who had fouls and I got away from our defensive game plan, which is pressing, and we went zone. But today, when we’re pressing, you can see the difference.
“When we play our game there is not a team that can compete with us in the Ivy League.”
It was just a matter of getting back to basics.
“We tried to get a little faster and push the ball up the court, and tried to force them out of their zone, which gave us trouble in the first game,” Maharaj said. “We conditioned really hard to press the whole game and get our athletic kids up and down the court.”
With six regular season games remaining, it appears the race for the Ivy League championship could do down to the wire as Fieldston looks to repeat as champs and make a long run in the New York State Association of Independent Schools tournament at the end of the month. Last year’s squad reached the semifinals of the independent schools tournament.
“I think this team is better than last year’s team, even though we lost one of the best players to ever play at Fieldston in Justin Rogers,” Salazar said. “This year, we have 10 seniors, so we have a lot of experience on this team.”
Going out with an Ivy title and state tournament championship is what drives Maharaj and the Eagles now.
“We definitely want to leave a legacy here,” Maharaj said. “There are a lot of seniors here, so we really want to do this together. We’ve really wanted this for a long time.”