ABERDEEN TWP. – Matawan’s history as a boys basketball program ranges from uneventful to painful, and current head coach Tom Stead has already been part of two torturous moments in Huskies basketball history.

Tuesday, in front of a raucous home crowd at Matawan High School, Stead and his team finally brought Matawan basketball its moment of triumph.

The Huskies – the No. 1 seed in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II playoffs – beat No. 10 Rumson-Fair Haven, 67-54, to capture the program’s first NJSIAA sectional championship since 1957. Matawan will look to advance to the Group II championship by beating South Jersey II champion Camden Thursday at 7 p.m. at Perth Amboy High School in the Group semifinal.

Junior Joe Piscopo (above) celebrates with the Matawan fans following the Huskies' 67-54 win over Rumson for the program's first  sectional championship since 1957.

“It’s almost impossible to describe this feeling. I guess the best way to put it is that it’s like a dream,” Matawan junior guard Jason Dunne said. “All day in class, it was impossible to focus on anything other than this game. No matter what, I just kept thinking, ‘We have a chance to win a championship tonight.’ Then to come out and actually do it, it’s the best feeling.”

Stead took over the program in the 2006-07 season after leading Holmdel to two NJSIAA Group II championships. The last time Matawan appeared in a sectional final, the Huskies lost to Stead’s Holmdel team in 1996. After inflicting damage upon the program as an opposing coach, he joined in the misery in his first year as head coach, when Matawan went 0-24 in Stead’s first year on the bench.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to go to the (Tournament of Champions) a couple of times and I’d love nothing more than to be up there on the podium at the T of C banquet next week,” Stead said. “But this was for our town and for this team. Our guys have worked so hard to get to this point, so I’m just really happy they get to feel what they are feeling right now.


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“Guys like (former Matawan coach) Jack George, who went through year-in and year-out what I’ve been through for the last seven years, it’s good to see guys like that out and showing their support for the kids along with the rest of the community because Matawan’s never experienced this in basketball. For the longest time, the team has been a doormat, and that’s despite Jack, because Jack is a good coach. But he was always fighting the tide and now, the tide is finally changing.”

The Huskies led for most of the game thanks to a hot start from three-point range and 14-4 third-quarter run that swung the tide back in their favor. With Rumson still hanging around late in the game, Matawan closed out the Bulldogs with a 15-7 run over the final three minutes to set off the celebration.

Junior Joe Piscopo led Matawan with 21 points to go with four assists and three steals, while Dunne scored 12 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and added six rebounds, six assists and three steals.

“This was so big, not just for us, but for the whole town,” Piscopo said. “The crowds have been great all year and tonight was incredible. The whole town came out and supported us, and with that kind of support and the way we support each other, nothing really got to us. When we were down, we knew we had each other’s backs, and we were going to turn it around.”

Matawan led for all but 33 seconds of the first half and at one point built a 26-18 lead. Rumson, however, went on an 11-0 run to end the second quarter, capped by a six-point possession thanks to a technical foul on the Matawan bench after a foul call. Rumson junior Morgan Maguire scored nine of Rumson’s last 13 points of the half during a 13-2 stretch, which accounted for all of his scoring.

The Huskies twice took back the lead early in the third quarter, once on a three-point play by senior Austen Planes to put Matawan ahead, 31-29, and again on a three by Piscopo that made it 35-33. Rumson tied the game again at 35 on a drive by junior Thomas Famulary before Matawan responded with a 10-2 run, with the first eight of those points coming from the bench. Senior Dritan Gjyriqi scored on drive off an offensive rebound, followed by basket-and-fouls on consecutive possessions by senior Mike Vella and Gjyriqi to make it 41-35.


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“Whenever Vella came in the game, he told me he wanted to guard (Rumson junior guard Brendan) Barry,” Piscopo said. “He just told me to work off the ball, and he’d handle it and he did a great job. You can’t teach that kind of attitude and when you have seniors coming off the bench like that and being leaders, it impacts everything.”

After Rumson senior Jack Herrmann drove to the basket to make the score 41-37, Gjyriqi banked in a short jumper for his sixth point during a two-minute stretch of the third quarter, which accounted for all of his scoring. A layup by Dunne made the score 45-37, finishing off a 14-4 run over a stretch of 5:30.

“I thought our bench stepped up big and gave us some key baskets and some big hustle plays,” Stead said. “Dritan and Mike Vella had some big baskets when we needed them, but also just the hustle plays that sometimes get overlooked. Not everybody’s going to score 15 to 20 points, but everyone who gets in the game has to challenge for those fifty-fifty balls, and those guys have done that for us.”


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Matawan led 52-41 with 5:34 left to play before Rumson made a game of it again with threes on consecutive possessions by Barry and junior Alex Geiger to cut Matawan’s lead to 52-47 with a little more than three minutes left.

Rumson continued to score, but Matawan had an answer each time, particularly Dunne. Piscopo drove the length of the court to put Matawan ahead, 54-47, and Dunne answered each of the next two Rumson scores with buckets of his own to put Matawan ahead 58-51 with two minutes left.

“We knew Rumson had guys who could score and to beat them, you’re going to have make shots, too,” Dunne said. “As a player, you want to have a chance to make a big shot at the end of the game, and I think all of our guys embrace the chance to take a big shot with the game on the line. Tonight, it was about putting the game away, and we had to execute on offense to do it.”


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Senior Chris Tawiah helped Matawan off to a strong start with all 10 of his points in the first half, including two first-quarter three-pointers. Tawiah and fellow senior starters Planes and Nick Tomkins all battled foul trouble, with all three picking up three fouls by the third quarter.

“We’re a team that’s all about tempo and when we get one guy going, the other guys follow,” Tawiah said. “Sometimes it’s Joe who hits some early shots and then the rest of us get going, and sometimes it’s Jay. Tonight, all three of us hit some early shots and that established our tempo.”


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“This crowd gave us an insane amount of energy,” Tomkins said. “It was unreal. I was driving here at five o’clock and the parking lot was already full and people were waiting outside. I couldn’t believe it and then you realize what this place is going to look like in a couple of hours. It got us pumped to play even more, and we were able to channel that energy.”

Herrmann led Rumson with 19 points and 11 rebounds in his final game, while Barry added 11 and Famulary 10 in the loss.


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Matawan will now look to build on its already-historic season by beating one of the more tradition-rich public school programs in the state. Camden edged Pemberton, 71-67, Tuesday and has played a schedule loaded with top teams from South Jersey, as well as around the state.

“It’s hard to imagine what tomorrow is going to be like, because I don’t even really grasp what’s going on now,” Piscopo said. “But we’re going to have practice and we have a game to play on Thursday, and we want this to keep going. So I’m guessing we’re going to celebrate this one until practice and then we’ll get back to work and start getting ready for Camden.”


Box Score

Matawan 67, Rumson-Fair Haven 54






Rumson (18-11)






Matawan (24-4)







Rumson (54): Brendan Barry 3 4-4 11, Thomas Famulary 3 4-4 10, Morgan Maguire 3 2-4 9, Jack Herrmann 8 3-5 19, Alex Geiger 2 0-0 5, Jimmy Purcell 0 0-0 0, Tommy Johnston 0 0-0 0. Totals: 19 13-17 54

Three-pointers: Barry, Maguire, Geiger

Matawan (67): Joe Piscopo 7 4-6 21, Jason Dunne 7 4-6 20, Nick Tomkins 0 1-2 1, Austen Planes 2 1-1 5, Chris Tawiah 3 2-4 10, Dritan Gjyriqi 3 0-1 6, Mike Vella 2 0-3 4, Mergim Gjyriqi 0 0-0 0. Totals: 24 12-23 67

Three-pointers: Piscopo 3, Dunne 2, Tawiah 2