By Tyler Calvaruso
SSN Contributor

MIDDLETOWN – Down by 11 at halftime and without one of their leading scorers in senior guard Jack Solano for the remainder of the game, it would have been easy for Rumson Fair-Haven – the No. 3 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 – to waive the white flag.

Instead, junior forward Ian O’Connor took over in the second half and led the Bulldogs to a 46-43, come-from behind-victory over No. 5 Christian Brothers Academy.

O’Connor led the charge with a game-high 24 points and nine rebounds, including 22 points in the second half.

Senior point guard Devin Cooper chipped in eight points and senior center Elijah McAllister had a monster day on the glass, coming down with 18 rebounds despite matching up with CBA junior center Josh Cohen, who finished with 13 boards himself.

“I love this movie called ‘Glory’ and it says if this man shall fall, who will carry the flag and that’s basically what we said at halftime,” Rumson head coach Chris Champeau said. “We lost our leading scorer, but it doesn’t mean the game’s over. Shots are going to start to fall, just play tough Rumson basketball and we’ll be alright.”

Things got off to a slow start in the first quarter for both teams, as neither could find the bottom of the net. The action started to pick up a bit as the quarter progressed and CBA held a 12-7 lead at the end of the first.

The Colts continued to roll in the second, building a 24-13 lead heading into halftime while Rumson played almost half of the second quarter without Solano, who sustained a cut on his head while attempting to take a charge and did not return.

After CBA came out and scored the first basket of the third quarter, the tide started to swing in Rumson’s favor, as O’Connor and company got things flowing on the offensive end, something they were not able to do in the first half.

“Hitting the gaps hard [was the key],” O’Connor said of his second-half success. “They were switching between zone and man and we have shooters on the perimeter. We lost Jack in the second and we were really missing him, but when I was driving to the hoop, defenders didn’t want to help off them because they’re such good shooters. It was opening a lane for me and I attacked.”

Rumson cut CBA’s lead to 26-19 by the 4:20 mark of the third and by the end of the quarter, CBA only led by two, 29-27. An and-one from O’Connor at the beginning of the fourth gave Rumson a 30-29 lead, their first since the opening minutes of the game.

While Rumson was able to extend their lead to 41-34 by the 4:30 mark, CBA hung around despite losing their leading scorer in Stephen Braunstein, who fouled out early in the fourth with 16 points. With Braunstein on the bench, junior Rob Mahala stepped up and hit a three to give CBA a 42-41 lead with two minutes remaining in regulation.

The Colts did not hold the lead for long, as O’Connor yet again drove the lane and finished at the rim to give Rumson back the lead for good with 1:05 left.

“Ian’s a monster,” Champeau said of O’Connor. “I call him the Viking so I said hey, give the Viking the ball and let him conquer the village.”

CBA had a chance to tie things up twice, but turned the ball over with 6.7 seconds left and failed to convert on a basket after Rumson turned the ball over on the ensuing inbounds pass.

Saturday afternoon’s matchup was the two teams met since 2015, where Rumson pulled off a miraculous 50-24 upset over the Colts in the Shore Conference Tournament finals.

“It’s always great to beat them,” Champeau said. “They’ve won 20 Shore Conference titles, we’ve won one, so whenever you can beat a legendary school like that, it feels great.”

After falling to a tough St. Peter’s Prep team last week, Saturday’s win also solidifies Rumson as the No. 3 team in the Shore Sports Network Top in O’Connor’s eyes.

“We were hearing all week that if we lost this game, they’d be No. 3 in the Shore and we’d be four or five,” O’Connor said. “We really didn’t want that to happen and we wanted to make a statement today.”


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