HOLMDEL - The Rumson-Fair Haven boys basketball team has been one of the Shore's most accomplished programs since coach Chris Champeau took over, but despite a Shore Conference Tournament title and appearances in another SCT final and a Central Jersey Group II final on his watch, the Bulldogs had never won an outright divisional championship during his first seven seasons.

That all changed Thursday when Rumson-Fair Haven defeated Holmdel, 70-49, to claim the outright Shore Conference Class A Central division title. While the Bulldogs have larger goals in mind, the win still should have been a cause for celebration, but the party was muted because of another injury to 6-7 junior center Elijah McAllister.

Playing in his fourth game of the season following rehab of a torn ACL in his right knee, McAllister went down again late in the second quarter, this time due to an injury to his left knee. He did not return to the game and spend most of the night seated on the bench with an icepack wrapped around his injured knee.

Elijah McAllister is helped off the floor by coach Chris Champeau and Teddy Sourlis (10). (Photo by Matt Manley)

McAllister told his coaches that he did not experience a sensation similar to the one he felt when he tore his ACL in April and the training staff on hand was also cautiously optimistic that this injury was serious to the degree that his previous injury was. McAllister's timetable for a return was up in the air as the team boarded the bus on Thursday and he will be re-evaluated during the week.

"When I got to him, he said it didn't feel like the time he hurt his ACL," Champeau said. "It was his left knee, not his right knee. By the middle of the second half, he said he felt fine, so that gives me optimism. That being said, I have no idea. We're just praying and hoping that he's fine."

Even if there is no structural damage to McAllister's knee, his status for the remainder of the year could be in serious question. McAllister is drawing serious interest from some of the top college football programs in the country and while he wanted to show coaches how quickly he could return to an athletic arena, a scare like the one McAllister is experiencing would make plenty of athletes think twice about rushing back before they are ready.

"I didn't ever feel like, and maybe (McAllister) felt differently, but it never seemed like he was rushing back," Champeau said. "It was eight-and-a-half months from surgery and he did everything he was supposed to do - cleared every test, every marker and put in all the work. But it's always up to them - him and his father. I don't tell him what to do, but if he wants to go and he can go, I'm not holding him back."

Prior to Thursday's mishap, McAllister did not appear like he was rushing. Despite undergoing surgery just nine months ago, he looked like his old self in the four appearances for the Bulldogs this season. On Thursday, he played the first nine minutes without going to the bench, except for the end of the first quarter. Before leaving the game with the injury, McAllister put up eight points, six rebounds and eight blocks in about 12 minutes of action.

There were plenty of worried looks on the Rumson bench when the Bulldogs watched their teammate limp off the court, but those looks of concern were for McAllister and McAllister alone. Although McAllister brings a unique weapon to a lineup with his size and shot-blocking ability, Rumson hasn't seemed to mind playing without him this year. Thursday marked the Bulldogs' 16th win in 17 games this year and the team went 12-1 before he returned to the lineup.

"There was concern in the locker room, not about whether we're going to win or not, but about him," Champeau said. "He's fought so hard to get back and he's risked everything for us, so we obviously hope he's fine."

 

Even their only loss was impressive, as the Bulldogs fell to powerhouse Roselle Catholic, 49-46, and held the lead for the vast majority of the game.

While McAllister made an impact against Holmdel Thursday, he was hardly alone, even when he was on the court. Senior forward Tyler Pierson turned in another solid all-around effort with 14 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two blocks to lead Rumson.

Pierson is the fourth-leading scorer on the team, but leads Rumson in rebounding, assists and blocked shots. McAllister's return to the lineup pushed a ball-handler - either Tommy Oakes or Jack Higgins - to the bench and made junior guards Jack Solano the de facto point guard on the floor. Pierson, however, has served as a point-forward at different points and has been able to find Solano, junior Teddy Sourlis and Ian O'Connor for open looks.

Solano and Sourlis both finished Thursday's game with 13 points and Higgins added eight points off the bench. Holmdel answered a quick 6-0 start by Rumson by pulling even at 10 before the Bulldogs scored nine straight to stretch the lead to 19-10 by the end of the first quarter. The closest Holmdel got the rest of the way was 22-13.

The Bulldogs will host old rival Manasquan on Saturday before wrapping up their regular season against Shore Regional and St. John Vianney. Rumson played Manasquan four times last year, including once in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals and again in the Central Jersey Group II semifinals.

"They still have one Jensen left," Champeau said, referring to Shore Conference leading scorer and Manasquan senior Devin Jensen, whose older brother Ryan was a First-Team All-Shore forward last year as a senior. "I don't know how many Jensens they have left, but I hope this is the last one. We're pumped for it. It's a fun game."

 

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