RUMSON - When Rumson-Fair Haven Chris Champeau and his players looked at the schedule prior to the start of the 2016-17 season, none of them could have figured they would be entering a home game against a loaded Roselle Catholic team on Jan. 22 undefeated.

Not only did the Bulldogs make it to Sunday's game with the Division I prospect factory undefeated; they almost walked out undefeated.

Rumson took a six-point lead to the fourth quarter and had the ball with a chance to tie the game in the final seconds, but the Lions came up with a game-winning stop on defense to escape a scare from the Bulldogs with a 49-46 win.

Roselle Catholic suffered its first loss to a team from N.J. on Friday when it lost to the Patrick School, 83-68, in a high-profile showdown. If the Lions were hoping for a soft-landing coming off a battle with the state's top-ranked team, they did not find it at Rumson.

"If you get a team like that on the ropes, it lets us know we can beat anyone in the state," Champeau said. "We played hard and we played Rumson basketball."

The Bulldogs led Roselle Catholic at the end of each of the first three quarters and led by as many as 11 points. Junior guard Jack Solano and sophomore forward Ian O'Connor scored 15 points apiece to lead all scorers and Solano scored the first eight points of the third quarter to stretch Rumson's lead to 36-25.

"This wasn't like a regular-season game," Solano said. "We knew we were 11-0, but we hadn't played anybody close to their level yet. We just knew if we shot well, we played our zone well and guarded Naz (Reid) well, we would be in it."

Roselle Catholic spent the next seven minutes chipping away at Rumson's lead and jumped in front, 46-44, on a three-pointer by senior Raheem Carter with 5:10 left. The three by Carter, who played his first two high school seasons at Long Branch, gave the Lions their first lead since the opening two minutes of the second quarter.

Solano answered with a drive to the basket to tie the game at 46 and 6-11 junior Nazreon Reid came right back with a hook shot in the paint to give Roselle Catholic a 48-46 lead with 4:10 left.

After a Rumson turnover with 3:55 left, the Bulldogs stayed in their zone - which Rumson played for the entire game - and Roselle Catholic chose to run out as much clock as the opposition would allow. Temple-bound senior guard Nate Pierre-Louis held the ball out near midcourt for almost three full minutes until the Bulldogs defense came out to apply pressure with a minute left.

Pierre-Louis proceeded to hit one of two free throws with 53 seconds left to push his team's lead to three and the Lions did not get the ball back again.

Rumson nearly turned the ball over with 37 seconds left and used two timeouts over the course of the final possession. Roselle Catholic also gave a foul with 11 seconds left and had another to give, but chose to play straight up. The Lions pushed Rumson's guards back to the midcourt line and junior Jason Battle poked the ball away from Bulldogs junior Teddy Sourlis as the final seconds ticked away. Sourlis managed to recover the loose ball, but only had time to heave up a shot from beyond three-quarter court.

"We never played in quarter like that in our whole lives," Solano said. "That was a D-1 atmosphere. It was like college ball or like March Madness. Most people expected us to lose by 30 and we used that to our advantage."

The Bulldogs took a 28-25 lead into the halftime locker room despite shooting only 2-for-14 from beyond the three-point line in the first half. Sourlis, however, drilled a 25-foot three-pointer to open Rumson's scoring, senior forward Tyler Pierson stepped out for a three to cap the scoring in the first quarter, and the Bulldogs continued to fire from deep.

"In the locker room at halftime, (Champeau) was like, 'We're up by three and we're shooting (2-for-14) from three-point range. If we just knock down some of these open shots, we're blowing this team away.' And that's what we did to start the second half and that's when we got our biggest lead."

The threat of the three-point shot helped soften up the Lions defense enough for O'Connor and Solano to successfully penetrate the defense. O'Connor scored all 15 of his points in the first half and scored all 13 of Rumson's points in the second quarter - all of which came in the paint and at the free-throw line.

"My main strategy on offense was to bring Reid and the other big guys out and I'm going to use their size against them," Champeau said. "That's what we did. He's 6-11, (offer from) Kentucky - come out and guard Ian O'Connor. Then we're going to kick it and knock threes down."

Sunday's trip to Monmouth County was trip closer to home for three of Roselle Catholic's players. In addition to Carter, Reid and senior guard Barry Brown have lived in Monmouth County. Reid is a native of Asbury Park and Brown played at Neptune in each of the past two seasons before moving north and transferring to Roselle Catholic.

The three Shore-area players combined for 26 of Roselle Catholic's 49 points and had a significant impact on the game. Reid - a five-star recruit who has offers from 15 Division I programs, including Kentucky, Kansas, Louisville, Villanova, Seton Hall, St. John's and Rutgers - finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and a pair of blocks.

"I was not aware that they could shoot from that deep," Reid said. "It actually surprised me a lot, and the rest of the team."

Carter hit two big three-pointers and blocked a shot during the fourth quarter and finished with eight points. Brown also finished with eight points, including a pair of first-half three-pointers. Sophomore Khalil Whitley, meanwhile, led Roselle Catholic with 11 points and Pierre-Louis - the team's leading scorer - finished with only eight points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals.

"I had a lot of family and a lot of friends coming out to watch the game," Reid said. "I just have to keep my head in the game. I know they're supporting me at home and at the game, so I just have to keep my head in the game and keep playing."

After spending two years at Neptune, Brown was aware of what Roselle Catholic was walking into on Sunday.

"As soon as I saw Rumson on the schedule, I knew what type of game it was going to be," Brown said. "I told the rest of my team the crowd was going to be crazy. From every position, they all can shoot. I tried to stress it, but I don't think the rest of our guys realized it."

Sunday's loss ended an unlikely 11-game winning streak by Rumson to open the season. Not only did the Bulldogs graduate all-time leading scorer and former Shore Sports Network Player of the Year Brendan Barry, but they also lost two starters - senior Mike O'Connor and junior center Elijah McAllister - due to injury before opening night.

McAllister suffered a torn ACL in April, but is on the comeback trail. According to Champeau, the team is targeting Saturday against Red Bank Catholic as the season debut for the 6-7 center and Shore Conference leader in blocked shots a year ago.

"Think about that - we did this without him," Champeau said. "You think he would have helped?

"We did what we did today on just defense and grinding. What I take from this is my guys showed no fear. Like, zero. We could lay an egg in the Shore (Conference Tournament), but for today, we're ready to rock."

 

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