Boys Basketball – Rumson Falls Just Short of First Group II Final in Loss to Haddonfield
TOMS RIVER - Coach Chris Champeau kept waiting on his Rumson-Fair Haven boys basketball team to get a perimeter shot to fall late in its Group II semifinal game Thursday against Haddonfield at the RWJ Barnabas Health Center.
It did not happen for the Bulldogs in the second half and with the game on the line, it was Haddonfield that knocked down the two daggers from beyond the three-point line.
Juniors Mike DePersia and Dan Fleming hit clutch, go-ahead three-pointers in the fourth quarter and the Bulldogs missed out on three opportunities to tie the game in the final minute, giving the South Jersey Group II champions a 43-39 win over Rumson and their first trip to the Group II title game in 11 years.
"We want this ring," Fleming said. "We haven't won states in 12 years and haven't been (to the final) in 11, so we're pumped. We're going to go get it done."
"I just kept expecting - because it happens all the time - for us to go on one of our patented 9-0 runs," Champeau said. "I moved us up and pressed a little, moved us back a little, we just couldn't get it going. We had a bunch of open looks, but just couldn't knock them down."
The fourth quarter was a deliberately-played eight minutes in which the two teams combined to score only 12 points. Rumson junior Jackson McCarthy got the Bulldogs off on the right foot with a drive to the basket to put his team ahead, 37-35.
DePersia answered with his long three-pointer that gave Haddonfield a 38-37 edge, which it took advantage of by chewing up a significant portion of the clock during its next two possessions, which both came up empty.
After it finally got the ball back, Rumson took the lead on a drive by junior Ian O'Connor, making it 39-38 with 1:57 to play.
Haddonfield, however, had an answer as the 6-foot-7 Fleming calmly let fly a three-pointer from straight on and buried it to put his team up, 41-39, with 1:33 left.
"I just know I can make them when I get a good look," Fleming said of his three that turned out to be the game-winner. "I just shot it and it went in. All of us can shoot, we all work together, and we all play for each other. We trust each other."
Rumson turned the ball over on an offensive foul, but forced a Haddonfield turnover on the other end to earn another chance to pull even. O'Connor barreled into the lane, but came up empty with 10 seconds remaining.
It took four seconds for Rumson to commit the six fouls necessary to put Haddonfield in the bonus and send the Bulldogs to the free-throw line. Once there, DePersia missed the front end of his 1-and-1 with 5.2 seconds left, giving Rumson a chance to secure the rebound and work the length of the court for a potential tying or winning shot.
Instead, however, the Bulldogs - with two rebounders to Haddonfield's none on the free-throw attempt - lost track of DePersia, who rebounded his own miss and was fouled again, this time with 3.7 seconds left.
With another chance to seal the game, DePersia did not miss either attempt and set off the Haddonfield celebration. The junior point guard - who scored the game-winning putback in the finals seconds of the sectional final win over six-time defending sectional champion Camden in Monday's South Group II final - finished with nine points.
Senior Will Bond finished with a team-high 13 points to lead Haddonfield, including three three-pointers and 11 points in the first half. Fleming, meanwhile, added eight points and four blocks in the win.
"They were sneaky long and aggressive around the basket," Champeau said. "They got a piece of a lot of shots and they defended us well. It was just one of those games when it wasn't your night. It's a cliche, but it's the truth. We didn't make shots. We can't score 39 points and win at this this point in the season."
O'Connor led Rumson with 21 points, eight rebounds and two blocks and got the Bulldogs rolling in the first quarter by hitting on all three of his three-point attempts and going 4-for-4 with 11 points to stake the Bulldogs to a 16-7 lead. As a team, Rumson connected on four of its first six three-point attempts, but went on to miss its last 15 attempts and finished the game 4-for-21.
Over its last three tournament games, Rumson shot a combined 16-for-76 (21 percent) from beyond the arc. Despite losing one of its greatest weapons down the stretch, Rumson still managed to win a second straight sectional title and was one score away from taking down a Haddonfield squad that won its 28th game on Thursday night.
"This loss doesn't diminish being the first group in school history to win back-to-back sectional titles," Champeau said. "Obviously, we wanted to advance, so this is now a stumbling block we have hit the last two years, but I have to give all the credit to Haddonfield. They hit some clutch threes in the fourth quarter and we didn't. It happens sometimes."
McCarthy also chipped in 10 points for the Bulldogs, which played with senior center Elijah McAllister in foul trouble for much of the game. McAllister blocked only one shot in the game against a Haddonfield team that had enough size and skill in the front court to challenge the 6-7 shot-blocking force at the rim, as well as take perimeter shots that Rumson was conceding.
"We know he likes to stay inside more on defense," Fleming said of McAllister. "We didn't do too much because we didn't know who he was covering but we just tried to keep adjusting and see what the matchup was."
Haddonfield's shooters went cold in the third quarter, but DePersia and Fleming came through down the stretch.
Although Rumson will have to replace McAllister, point guard Devin Cooper and guards Teddy Sourlis and Jack Solano from its regular rotation, the Bulldogs return O'Connor, McCarthy and sophomore Phillip Wheeler next year. Those three combined for 33 of Rumson's 39 points on Thursday.
Until the first day of practice next season, however, this one will sting for Champeau and certainly the four seniors. Sourlis and Solano were part of the sectional title last year and while McAllister was injured for that run, he was a key player off the bench on Rumson's 2015 Shore Conference Tournament Championship team.
"No excuses, they beat us," Champeau said. "We didn't play our best game and they're moving on and we aren't. Give all the credit to them."
Haddonfield 43, Rumson-Fair Haven 39
Rumson (39): Devin Cooper 0 1-2 1, Teddy Sourlis 1 0-0 3, Elijah McAllister 1 0-0 2, Ian O'Connor 7 4-4 21, Jackson McCarthy 5 0-0 10, Jack Solano 0 0-0 0, Phillip Wheeler 1 0-0 2. Totals: 15 5-6 39
Three-Pointers: Sourlis, O'Connor 3
Haddonfield (43): Mike DePersia 3 2-3 9, Ben Schroeter 2 0-0 5, Dan Fleming 3 1-2 8, Dylan Heine 1 0-0 2, Aiden Blake 3 0-0 6, Will Bond 3 4-4 13, Lewis Evans 0 0-0 0. Totals: 15 7-9 43
Three-pointers: DePersia, Schroeter, Fleming, Bond 3