RUMSON - Ian O'Connor and Jackson McCarthy knew they were going to have to do the heavy-lifting for the Rumson-Fair Haven boys basketball team this season and through four games, that is exactly what they had been doing.

To beat its fifth opponent, however, the two senior leaders had to be more than just the best players on the court. O'Connor and McCarthy had to do what they could to help their less experience teammates rise to the occasion as well.

Against a high-profile opponent Friday night in the final game of the Bulldawg Classic, O'Connor and McCarthy delivered on the stat sheet and their teammates backed them up in their collective supporting roles as part of a 50-47, statement home win over St. Peter's Prep.

O'Connor pumped in 25 points while grabbing 10 rebounds and McCarthy pitched in 12 points, 10 rebounds and five assists to lead Rumson's effort on both ends. O'Connor went off for 17 points in the second half, including 12 in the fourth quarter to help seal an eye-opening win for a Bulldogs team that lost five of its seven regular rotation members from a year ago.

"We just try to put out positive vibes," O'Connor said. "It's hard enough to play without us getting on guys and putting extra pressure on them, so Jackson and I just try to do our jobs and help the other guys as much as we can without getting on them too much. We need them in games like this and this was a great team win against a really tough, North Jersey team."

Freshman Geoff Schroeder led the rest of the bunch with nine points, which included with first-quarter three-pointers that opened the scoring and a critical three-point play in the final two minutes.

Junior Drew Frankel was instrumental on the defensive end and added three assists, senior Cole Stasil hit a three to beat the first-quarter buzzer and sophomore center John Baker battled on the interior.

"This has been a baptism by fire for these guys," Rumson coach Champeau said. "They are learning on the job and at times, they show their inexperience, but they work hard. The great thing about having Ian and (McCarthy) is they are positive. I heard Jackson in the locker room at halftime telling the guys to keep shooting. 'They don't all go in, we need to keep shooting.' There was no blame or finger-pointing and I think the rest of the guys gain confidence because of the kind of leaders those two guys are."

When it came to the offense, though, O'Connor and McCarthy once again carried the Bulldogs, particularly O'Connor. The senior scored half of his team's points and is now averaging 22.6 points per game. McCarthy, meanwhile, is averaging 19.2 points per game, giving the duo 41.8 per game for a Rumson team averaging 61.4.

Rumson (4-1) jumped out to a 14-7 first quarter lead without much scoring from its dynamic duo. Schroeder hit two threes off passes from McCarthy to open the scoring and Stosil capped it with his three to end the quarter. In the second quarter, O'Connor scored six of Rumson's seven points, but the Bulldogs managed to make it to the locker room with a 21-20 lead.

"I definitely see myself as a point-forward on this team," McCarthy said. "Any time I can get some of the other guys going, especially early in the game, I'm going to try. If we can get a couple of guys hitting shots, plus when Ian gets going, we can be a tough team to guard."

After another defensive quarter in the third, St. Peter's (4-2) pulled even at 30-30 but missed three consecutive free throws with a chance to pull in front for the first time. Missed free throws severely damaged the Marauders' chances, with the visitors shooting 7-for-18 from the charity stripe in the second half.

"The past two games, we were lights-out from three," O'Connor said. "This game, they just weren't falling - especially for me. I short on almost everything in the first half. So we just started relying on our defense. We weren't scoring, but they weren't scoring either. We only scored seven points in the second quarter, but we were up at half. Against any North Jersey team, I'd love to have that."

McCarthy gave Rumson the lead back by making one of two foul shots and scored on a floater to make it 33-30. O'Connor then scored off an inbounds pass from Frankel as he was fouled and the ensuing free throw pushed the Bulldogs' lead back to six, 36-30.

After Ray Ford Jr. cut the St. Peter's deficit in half with a three, O'Connor answered with a three of his own from the right wing to extend the Rumson lead back to six. McCarthy's left-handed finish made it 41-33 and after a three by Will White, O'Connor sank both ends of a 1-and-1 to stretch the Bulldog lead to 43-36.

St. Peter's scored five straight points, with Jack Pettit knocking down a three-pointer to slice the Rumson lead to 43-41, but McCarthy immediately hit Schroeder up ahead of the field for a lay-up as he was fouled. The freshman calmly sank the free throw and Rumson's lead was back to five, 46-41.

O'Connor pushed the lead back to five with a floater and went 2-for-4 from the line down the stretch - just enough for Rumson to put the game away without St. Peter's ever getting a chance to take the lead.

"We were in that pack-line defense that gave them problems and any time they got the lead down to one or two, we just dug in, defended, rebounded and worked to get a good shot," McCarthy said.

Rumson was overwhelmed in the second half of a 65-48 loss at Manasquan in the second game of its season but has since responded with three resounding wins. The Bulldogs beat 4-1 Red Bank Catholic - the No. 6 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - by a 67-41 count and rolled through Fort Hamilton of Brooklyn, 76-49, in their first Bulldawg Classic game on Wednesday night.

Friday's game was not nearly as lopsided, but it might have been even more validating for this Rumson team considering St. Peter's Prep entered 4-1 with a win over Hudson Catholic. After nearly upsetting a nationally-ranked Roselle Catholic team two years ago and falling short against St. Peter's last year, the Bulldogs finally got their win over a North Jersey Non-Public squad - a first since routing Gill St. Bernard in 2015-16.

"Wins like this show people in North Jersey that there is some pretty good basketball being played down here at the Shore," Champeau said. "It's not just Ranney. Between us, Manasquan, CBA - those are some good teams who have done it year-in and year-out. It's a big win for our program and a great win for the Shore too. Hopefully is sends a message to the rest of the state."

 

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