RUMSON - Senior point guard Devin Cooper's motto throughout his first and only season with Rumson-Fair Haven has been "points are overrated."

Cooper and his teammates showed what he meant during his team's NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship game against third-seeded Carteret, when his control of the game and Rumson's defense took over down the stretch.

When his team was desperate for scoring, Cooper took care of that end too. He scored all 11 of his points in the second half, including four free throws in the final 20 seconds to seal the top-seeded Bulldogs' 57-52 win over Carteret for their second consecutive sectional championship.

Cooper played two varsity seasons up Ridge Road at Red Bank Regional and led the Bucs in scoring last year. He transferred to Rumson-Fair Haven and immediately won the starting point guard job and turned himself into a pass-first player, a manager of the offense and an active defender with his new team.

"I knew when I was coming in here, I was surrounded by a lot of good scorers so I had to play my role as a point guard," Cooper said of his transition from one Ridge Road rival to another. "I tell myself before every game, 'Points are overrated.' I'm not worried about the points, I'm just worried about getting the right guy the ball."

After embracing his new role, Cooper became another key piece for Rumson and was as instrumental as any player Monday in bringing home the team's second consecutive title - even as the lone player to play Monday who was not in the program for last year's state championship.

"This is my new family," Cooper said. "They were so accepting of me. I love the coach and everybody on the team from the first guy to the bottom of the bench. I sort of fit the perfect mold of what kind of player they were looking for so it was pretty easy for me to fit it."

"It's nice to have a really good point guard to control the game and move the ball around," Rumson coach Chris Champeau said. "I've always been a guy who said if you go to a slow-down offense too early, you end up losing the game, sort of like a prevent defense in football. But when you have Devin and we are in the bonus shooting free throws, I figured we were in good position to take some time off the clock and win what was not the prettiest game in the history of the Shore Conference."

Carteret senior Isaiah Daniels-Porter scored to cut Rumson's lead to 53-49 with a little more than 30 seconds left and the Ramblers sent Cooper to the line with 20 seconds showing on the clock.

Cooper calmly drained both free throws to stretch the lead back to six, but Carteret was not done fighting. After senior Elijah McAllister blocked his seventh shot of the game, junior Tim Ellis corralled the long rebound and hit a contested, double-clutch three-pointer to pull the Ramblers within one score with six seconds left.

Once again, Carteret fouled Cooper and the senior guard again knocked down two free throws with five seconds left to put the game out of reach.

"We found out at an early point of the season that we are a second-half team," Cooper said. "We knew against teams like (Carteret) that play really up-tempo and try to make us run faster, we as a team had to slow the game down."

After Cooper made the first of his two free throws to make it a two-score game with only six seconds left, Champeau summoned senior Jack Velcamp off the bench, prompting a loud reaction from Rumson's student cheering section. Velcamp got a chance to start on Rumson's senior night after spending eight years as the team manager and got to enter a sectional championship game on Monday as well.

Prior to the theatrical finish, Rumson won the game with Cooper protecting the ball, milking the clock and relying on McAllister and the Bulldogs defense to continue getting stops. The Bulldogs limited Carteret to 4-for-18 shooting from three-point range in the first half and 8-for-29 for the game while also dominating the boards on both ends and keeping Carteret from scoring in the paint.

McAllister led that effort with 13 rebounds and seven blocks - another inspired defensive effort from the Bulldogs emotional leader, who missed all but four regular-season games last year due to major surgeries on each of his knees.

McAllister had to watch his team make the run to their first sectional title in nearly 50 years. This year, he was one of the main reasons the Bulldogs repeated.

"Although I was still part of the team, there is a big difference between me being on the court and not," McAllister said. "I was a spiritual leader of the team, but I wasn't actually on the court. This year it feels great to be able to contribute on the court as well as off the court.

"It's a great feeling to get this win with our family and our brothers and the whole community coming out to support us. It feels great."

The defensive effort also helped overcome a poor shooting night for Rumson, as the Bulldogs shot just 8-for-34 from three-point range, including 1-for-10 in the second half.

Junior Jackson McCarthy scored nine of his team-high 13 points in the second half and grabbed eight rebounds in the win. McCarthy and Cooper combined to score 20 of Rumson's 22 second-half points after McCarthy put up four in the first half while Cooper went scoreless.

According to Champeau, McCarthy had an allergic reaction before the game after accidentally ingesting a small amount of peanuts. He still managed to start the game, but played limited minutes, scored four points and picked up a technical foul during a skirmish for the ball.

"When he got that technical foul, I said to the referees and their coaches, 'That must be the Benadryl, because he's not usually that feisty,'" Champeau said.

Senior Ian O'Connor scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half, including a putback at the second-quarter buzzer to help the Bulldogs stake claim to a 35-26 halftime lead.

While McCarthy and Cooper led the second-half scoring effort, it was everyone else leading the way in the first half. On top of O'Connor's 10 points, sophomore Phillip Wheeler scored seven points while seniors Teddy Sourlis and Jack Solano each buried two three-pointers for six points.

Rumson's first-half defensive strategy involved more zone than the Bulldogs are used to playing and conceded three-pointers to any Carteret player who wanted to shoot them. The plan worked and the Ramblers shot only 4-for-18 from distance in the first half.

Daniels-Porter - who entered the game averaging a team-best 18.7 points per game - scored a game-high 24 points and went 6-for-6 from the free-throw line to lead Carteret's 10-for-11 night from the charity stripe.

"We didn't want to let (Daniels-Porter) get going with some easy shots," Champeau said. "We figured we'd make them knock down shots from the outside and really, it was their other guys at the end that hit some big shots. I'm not really a zone coach because I think our man-to-man defense gives us a lot of energy, but I didn't like the way we were switching early so I thought we'd try the zone."

Rumson advances to play South Jersey Group II champion Haddonfield in the Group II semifinal Wednesday at Perth Amboy High School. Last year, Rumson was overmatched against Camden in the Group II semifinal and has been on a mission all season long to get back to the same point of the tournament and turn in a better showing.

"People asked me why I would come back to play basketball after two surgeries on my knees," said McAllister, who is signed to play football at Vanderbilt University. "I watched from the bench last year when we lost to Camden and I knew I wanted to get back to that game to play Camden this year. We wanted to win the section, but the goal was to make the (Tournament of Champions) this year. That's the new standard for this team and for this school as a basketball program."

To their surprise, the Bulldogs will not be playing Camden, which lost to Haddonfield on a last-second shot in the sectional semifinal round. Camden had won six straight sectional championships prior to its loss on Saturday and it will now be a 27-win Haddonfield team that stands between Rumson and the Group II championship game at Rutgers on Sunday.

"I know nothing about Haddonfield," Champeau said. "I know they are not Camden, but they have got to be very good if they beat Camden. Tonight, I'll have some fun and then I'll go to work on them."

"We were preparing for Camden the whole year, but we'll be ready to play Haddonfield," McAllister said. "It's going do be a dogfight. We won this section and that's great, but that wasn't our goal. Our goal is to go to the TOC and to set a new standard here."

 

Box Score

Rumson-Fair Haven 57, Carteret 52

1 2 3 4
Rumson-Fair Haven (25-2) 16 19 11 11
Carteret (23-7) 12 14 13 13

Carteret (52): Donte Prioleau 1 0-0 3, Tim Ellis 1 0-0 3, Isaiah Daniels-Porter 8 6-6 24, Jahlil Nix 0 1-2 1, Zamar Brake 3 0-0 8, Malik Austin 1 1-1 3, Thamir Lamarr 2 0-0 5, Zacceus Brake 1 2-2 5. Totals: 17 10-11 52

Three-Pointers: Prioleau, Ellis, Daniels-Porter 2, Zamar Brake 2, Lamarr, Zacceus Brake

Rumson-FH (57): Devin Cooper 2 6-9 11, Teddy Sourlis 2 0-0 6, Elijah McAllister 1 0-0 2, Jackson McCarthy 4 5-7 13, Ian O'Connor 3 4-4 12, Jack Solano 2 0-0 6, Phillip Wheeler 3 0-0 7, Jack Velcamp 0 0-0 0. Totals: 17 15-20 57

Three-pointers: Cooper, Sourlis 2, O'Connor 2, Solano 2, Wheeler

 

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