Schools Sports

Conard Boys Play Their Way Into Basketball State Quarterfinal

Riley Fox goes in for two of his game-high 23 points. Conard vs. Daniel Hand boys basketball. Division II second round. March 6, 2024. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

The Conard boys basketball team hosted Daniel Hand in West Hartford on Wednesday night in the second round of the CIAC Division II state tournament.

Sports reporting is sponsored by Keating Agency Insurance

Max Tartaglia converts on the free throw for the Red Wolves. Conard vs. Daniel Hand boys basketball. Division II second round. March 6, 2024. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

By Paul Palmer

A season in any sport is about building your game and peaking at the right time. That looked like an impossible task for the Conard boys basketball team early this season.

They lost their first two games, fell to 2-4, and at one point were not even in contention to make the post-season. In early January, the Red Wolves ran off three wins in a row and looked to be ready to make their move. Then came a loss to Hall and more questions.

Through it all, head coach Jared Leghorn and his players never panicked; they stay true to what they were building and believed in each other. Between Jan. 17 and Feb. 24, they lost just two games, while winning 11 and reestablishing themselves as a team to be reckoned with.

Following Wednesday night’s 64-56 win over Daniel Hand (Madison) the Red Wolves are now three wins away from a state title.

“This feels great,” said guard Max Tartaglia. He was one of three Conard players to score in double figures against Hand. “This year our team is connected and tonight we executed our game plan.”

Aiden Fox was one of three Conard players in double figures. Conard vs. Daniel Hand boys basketball. Division II second round. March 6, 2024. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

From the opening quarter, the Red Wolves never trailed, which is not to say they had it easy against the Tigers. They did manage to open a 21-12 lead after one thanks to senior Riley Fox and his brother Aidan, who each had seven. In the second, it was the visitors with the upper hand if you will, outscoring the Red Wolves in the second to close it to 30-25 at intermission. Most of the damage was being done by sophomore Elijah Avery Turner who led all scorers with 14 points in the first half.

Riley Fox – the Yale-bound senior – has rewritten the school record book and worked hard to develop his all-around game. “I look at all these as games we have to win,“ he said. “I just try to emphasize doing the little things right.”

Riley Fox had Hand’s Kyle Hoffman guarding him throughout the game. Conard vs. Daniel Hand boys basketball. Division II second round. March 6, 2024. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

Fox started the second half by dishing assists first to Tartaglia and then to his own brother, and Conard quickly added four points to the lead. But Turner would answer with his own basket before Riley Fox completed the three-point play after being fouled while scoring.

Conard and Fox would take advantage of his height advantage on an inbound play from the side. The ball was thrown high toward the basket with Fox going above the defense , securing the pass, and dropping in the basket. At the other end of the court, it was a combination of Fox and Aidan Scully doing the hard work. Fox, who was guarding Turner, had to fight through screens and picks to try and keep up with the soph and then grab nearly every defensive rebound he could get to.

Aidan Scully of Conard lets the three-point shot fly. Conard vs. Daniel Hand boys basketball. Division II second round. March 6, 2024. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

Scully showed off his abilities on back-to-back plays with blocks, the last of which came on Thomas McCullagh’s drive to the basket. That kept the Conard lead at 39-28.

Despite being sick most of the week, Aidan Fox was finding his rhythm and his way to 18 points. He missed an attempted dunk in the lane, but got his own rebound, put it in, and got the foul. When he completed his own three-point play, the Red Wolves had a 14-point lead with 3:25 to play in the third.

Tartaglia – 13 points in the game – would later push that to a 16-point advantage and the game seemed to be turning. But Hand would fight back and after Turner hit back-to-back 3s it was a 10-point game with just under two minutes to play in the third. It would be just an eight-point game at 46-38 when the third ended.

Max Tartaglia looks for options in the 3rd quarter iof the Conard win. Conard vs. Daniel Hand boys basketball. Division II second round. March 6, 2024. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

Eziekel Williams opened the scoring in the fourth on a put back for Hand just :35 in. Aidan Fox would answer off a Tartaglia assist. The two would trade turnovers and baskets to go to 50-42.

With 4:10 to play, Riley Fox hit another milestone, this time in the state record book. He drove towards the hoop, pulled up, and then hit the mid-range jumper for his 18th point of the game and his 2,126th point in high school ball. That moved him ahead of Jerome Malloy who played for Kennedy and into 18th place all-time in Connecticut state boys basketball career scoring.

“I’m just trying to get the win,” Fox would say after the game. “That [record] is not my focus now. My focus is to get to Mohegan Sun” (site of the finals).

Riley Fox (11) and Aidan Fox (5) led Conard’s offense in the win against Daniel Hand. Conard vs. Daniel Hand boys basketball. Division II second round. March 6, 2024. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

Hand was not impressed, as Mike Mazzola then cut the Tigers’ deficit to just eight. This time it was Aidan Fox answering for Conard off a great pass from Noah Armstrong. He drove to the right side of the lane, drew the defense, then hit Fox with a spot-on pass behind the 3-point line in the corner, and Fox did the rest.

Once more, Daniel Hand battled back making it 55-46 with just under two to play. The Tigers began pressing hard on defense, at times forcing turnovers, but with 1:18 to play, Aidan Fox got behind the defense, was on the receiving end of a long pass, and this time did not miss on the two-handed dunk just in front of his brother who was following up the play.

Turner was carrying Hand on his back and used a crossover dribble to gain the edge, and went in for the lay in. When Hand stole the ball back from Conard at mid court and converted it into two more points it was 58-53 Red Wolves with 31.7 seconds to go. The game was sealed shortly after that when Conard hit two free throws and Riley Fox stole the inbound pass under the basket and laid it in. Fox would later hit two free throws to close it out at 64-56.

With Scully having an off night, Tartaglia picked up the scoring slack in addition to his work distributing the ball. “I try to find Riley but I also trust all our other guys as well,” he said.

“Max played a great game,” said coach Leghorn after the game. “All credit to him.”

Leghorn also praised the efforts of Armstrong who worked hard all night to beat the aggressive press of Hand. “Noah handled a full court press for 32 minutes for us tonight.”

A lot of teams game plan to try and shut Riley Fox down – and that’s understandable. But with Conard being able to get big games from multiple players, shutting down the Red Wolves is not easy. “For a couple of months, we’ve been practicing what to do when Riley gets double teamed,” said Leghorn. “Everyone else needs to make a plan and Riley is a very willing passer.”

After the win over Hand, Fox made a point to praise all of his teammates. “Everyone played amazing,” he said. “This was a total team win.”

Senior Julius Goode follows thru on his shot. Conard vs. Daniel Hand boys basketball. Division II second round. March 6, 2024. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

Leghorn gives credit for the way his team has responded after the rough start to his senior leadership. Fox, Armstrong, Scully, and Julius Goode contribute on the court every game.  Off the court Jayden Schuler has been the MVP after going down for the season in the first month. Leghorn praises him for always being there for his teammates at practice and at games, for keeping their spirits up and delivering the tough messages when they have to be said.

“Every great team starts with senior leadership,” Leghorn said. “We have a great group that leads by example. Now everyone shows up and works hard and that is the culture we built. All 15 of our guys on the team deserve full credit.”

Each game could be the last of Riley Fox’s career at Conard. For his coach, it is a time to enjoy what happens in each win, but Wednesday had a special meaning. “I did not want this to be the last game he played for us.” Leghorn said. And for Fox, this is also a very special time. Potentially winning a state title and making the run with his younger brother. “It is even more special now with just three games left to play with him,” said Riley Fox of his brother Aidan. “Having him adds a little something extra each game so we can keep playing with each other.”

Conard will play at Windsor in the quarterfinal on Friday night at 7 p.m. That game takes place on the same day and time as the Conard girls basketball team’s semifinal when they meet No. 1 seed Sacred Heart at Maloney High School. There is a bus for students who wish to attend the girls game. Details are in an email sent to all students. The cutoff for securing a place is noon Thursday.

Riley Fox looks to find a teammate as he is surrounded by Daniel Hand defenders. Conard vs. Daniel Hand boys basketball. Division II second round. March 6, 2024. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

Game notes

In addition to moving into 18th place on the Connecticut all-time scoring list, Fox hit some other milestones in the game:

  • He passed the 800-career rebound mark.
  • He also added to his total for most points in a single season. He now has 701 points this season with at least one more game to play. He also owns the record for the second- and third-most points in a single season at Conard.
  • He moved ahead of Billy Dunn (1060/61) to take third place for most rebounds in a single season.Dunn had 287 that year.
  • There have only been 27 players to score at least 2,000 points in a high school career in Connecticut boys basketball.

Conard boys basketball roster

  • Max Tartaglia
  • Clinton Smith
  • Jonathan Rivera
  • Michael Kirkutis
  • Aidan Fox
  • Riley Fox
  • Noah Armstrong
  • Maurice King
  • Ryan Whitmer
  • Anthony Spicer
  • Jack Faenza
  • Julius Goode
  • Ryan Barnum
  • Shane Morris
  • Aidan Scully

Noah Armstrong of Conard keeps Hand’s Thomas McCollugh at bay. Conard vs. Daniel Hand boys basketball. Division II second round. March 6, 2024. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford! Click the blue button below to become a supporter of We-Ha.com and our efforts to continue producing quality journalism.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the author


We-Ha.com is the place to go for the latest information about West Hartford – a town that "has it all"! We-Ha.com is part of and proud of our community, and we bring a hyperlocal focus to news and features about the people, schools, businesses, real estate, sports, restaurants, charitable events, arts, and more. Contact us at: [email protected] or [email protected].

Leave a Comment

Translate »