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Boys Basketball – Camden Ends Rumson’s Banner Year in Group 2 Semifinal

PERTH AMBOY – Tuesday night’s win over Arthur L. Johnson in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship was the realization of a dream for the Rumson-Fair Haven boys basketball team.

On the other end of the spectrum, Perth Amboy High School has been where Shore Conference teams have gone to wake up from their dream seasons and Camden has often been the alarm clock.

The Panthers knocked the Bulldogs off cloud nine during the second quarter of Thursday’s Group II semifinal in Perth Amboy and finished Rumson’s historic season with a 65-49 win over the Central Jersey Group II champion.

Camden will play in an NJSIAA group final for the fifth straight year Sunday when the Panthers take on Newark West Side at Rutgers. In three of the last four years, Camden defeated a Shore Conference team at Perth Amboy to reach the Group II final – Matawan in 2014, Manasquan in 2015 and Rumson this year.

“That team shot the hell out of it,” Champeau said of Camden. “They were tough. We never gave up, but we got beat. It happens. It doesn’t take away from the fact that we put a banner up.”

Rumson’s sectional title was the first for the program since 1973.

The Panthers reached the Group III final in 2013 and won the first of their six straight sectional championships by beating Lacey in the 2012 South Jersey Group III final. Neptune defeated Camden in the Group III semifinal that year.

It hasn’t just been Camden that has ended a Shore Conference team’s state tournament run at Perth Amboy. In 2013, Lakewood won the Central Jersey Group II championship and rolled into Perth Amboy as the Shore Conference Tournament champion with Medford Tech standing between the Piners and the Group II championship game. Lakewood, however, fell to Medford Tech while standout guard Tyrice Beverette was sidelined with a foot injury he suffered in the prior game.

An injury also impacted Rumson’s chances of breaking the Perth Amboy hex for the Shore Conference, although it is one the Bulldogs have worked around nearly all season. Rumson has played all but four games during its 24-3 season without 6-foot-6 junior Elijah McAllister, who missed the first 13 games of the season while rehabbing a torn ACL in his right knee and missed the last 10 after he tore the ACL in his left knee.

Rumson overcame the absence of McAllister’s rebounding and shot-blocking all year, but Thursday, the void was more evident. Camden grabbed 15 offensive rebounds to only three by the Bulldogs and scored 28 points in the paint.

“Every time I turn around and (McAllister) is sitting with my assistant coaches, I think to myself, ‘Wow. It would be a difference-maker if we had him in there,'” Champeau said. “At the same time, I had to stop thinking that way because this team was 20-2 without him. But yes, there were times we were getting hammered on the boards.”

The Bulldogs stayed within striking distance of Camden into the early stages of the second quarter. Junior Teddy Sourlis buried a 28-foot three-pointer as time expired in the quarter to cut Camden’s lead to 19-15.

The teams traded baskets to start the second quarter before Camden pulled away. The Panthers ripped off 16 unanswered points to build a 37-17 lead. Senior guard John Evans – who hit a buzzer-beater in double overtime to beat Haddonfield on Tuesday – scored six of his 14 points to lead the run. Evans also handed out five assists and swiped three steals.

“I didn’t expect them to shoot like they did,” Champeau said. “It wasn’t part of my game plan, but I’m sure it was part of theirs. I told the guys I was proud of the way they fought. That easily could have gotten bad.”

Camden built its lead as high as 23 and Rumson never got closer than 14 points. The Bulldogs did most of their damage from behind the three-point arc, shooting 10-for-34 (29 percent) as a team. Sourlis hit five three-pointers – all from well beyond the arc – to account for his 15 points and junior Jack Solano hit three en route to a team-high 17 points.

Junior Myles Thompson led Camden with 24 points and 12 rebounds, sophomore Ethan Tarte added 13 points and senior Deaquan Williams chipped in seven points and 10 boards.

Senior Tyler Pierson posted nine points, five rebounds and four assists in his final game for Rumson, while sophomore Ian O’Connor battled through early foul trouble to put up eight points and four assists.

Pierson, fellow senior starter Tommy Oakes and Jack Higgins will all move on in graduation and the Bulldogs will bring back Solano, Sourlis and O’Connor to the starting lineup, as well as sophomore Jackson McCarthy. The Bulldogs have a returning foundation capable of defending their title, with McAllister once again being the x-factor.

“We’ve built this thing organically,” Champeau said. “To see us in two Shore Conference Tournament finals and two state (sectional) finals, for a school that never really did that stuff before, it’s a testament to the kids and how dedicated they’ve been and how hard they’ve worked.

“It’s to the point now where people expect it. ‘Oh, you only made it to Brookdale (for the Shore Confernece Tournament quarterfinals)?’ Before, it was like, ‘Oh my god, you made it to Brookdale!'”

Camden also has Thompson and Tarte due back next year, and could potentially return junior Corey Greer as a senior. Like McAllister, Greer suffered a torn ACL, his in early January.

Although Rumson has become a perennial contender in the Shore Conference and Central Jersey Group II in Champeau’s eight years and is staring at a bright immediate future, those were little consolation for the group in the losing locker room Thursday night.

“A lot of tears – almost more so than the loss, it’s just that we’re not going to be hanging around with each other as a group anymore,” Champeau said. “This is one of the closest teams we’ve ever had. I hugged each guy, told him I loved him and told them all that this is basically one of the greatest seasons in RFH history.”

 

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