RUMSON - Seniors Ian O'Connor and Jackson McCarthy have spent their careers at Rumson-Fair Haven playing the role of favorite in a program that emerged to the forefront of the Shore Conference on the back of its underdog mentality.

With their careers now on the line with every game they play in the NJSIAA Tournament and their team mired in a stretch of losing that neither had previously experienced, O'Connor and McCarthy are starting to really discover the role of underdog and hope to harness its power.

O'Connor scored 26 points and seven rebounds and McCarthy added 13 and eight Monday night as the Bulldogs - seeded No. 2 in the Central Jersey Group II section - fought off a challenge from No. 15 Raritan, 51-46, to snap a four-game losing skid and extend Rumson's season by at least one more round.

"Since I got here, especially since my sophomore year, we got used to winning," said O'Connor, who started on each of Rumson's last two Central Jersey II championship teams and also on the Central Group III championship football team as well. "I think coming into this year, we had a little bit more of that underdog mentality because people weren't expecting us to be as good and I think after we got off to the good start, we probably lost that a little bit."

During the second quarter on Monday, Rumson looked the part of two-time defending sectional champion by outscoring Raritan, 17-4, and end the first half on a 23-5 run and with a 26-11 lead. A full-court press sparked the second-quarter surge by forcing Raritan into 14 first-half turnovers.

O'Connor lead the first-half run with 15 of Rumson's 26 points.

"When I first got here, we made a name for ourselves as a scrappy, in-your-face, underdog type team," Rumson coach Chris Champeau said. "We would press a lot but we have gotten away from it the last few years because of the different personnel we've had. This group is a lot of athletes, especially football guys so I wanted to get them doing what they do well: get physical, get up into guys and just go after people."

"During our losing streak, it's been our offense that has struggled more than our defense," O'Connor said. "We just haven't shot the ball like we were earlier in the year so we have had to make sure we defend even harder and try to get the ball inside on offense more. I really feel like the shots will start going in again but either way, this is the time of year we're going to have to win games on the defensive end."

Raritan opened the third quarter with 11 unanswered points to pull within 26-22 before O'Connor answered with a three-point play at the four-minute mark of the quarter. Freshman Geoff Schroeder added a three-pointer to push the lead to 32-22 and after Raritan sliced its deficit to 32-25, junior Jack Carroll gave Rumson back a 10-point lead with a three-pointer as the third quarter expired.

The two threes by Schroeder and Carroll were the only two Rumson hit in the game.

"Last practice, I brought out the ladder - I have been trying everything," Champeau said. "I did the old trick where you show them that you can fit two basketballs in the basket so they can see it's bigger than you think. We just haven't been able to get shots to fall and lately but in the meantime, we are defending hard and trying to really work possessions on offense."

McCarthy went to the bench with his fourth foul with under six minutes to go in the third and did not return until midway through the fourth quarter. Raritan went on a 12-3 run early in the fourth quarter to cut the Bulldogs lead to 40-37 on a drive to the basket by junior Jaylen Smith, who led Raritan with 17 points and eight rebounds.

O'Connor answered with a drive to push the lead back to five and McCarthy returned and knocked down just one free throw in four tries in one trip down the floor. Raritan responded with a three-pointer by senior Tyrese Bryant to cut the Rumson lead back to three at 43-40 with 1:15 left.

McCarthy hit a pair of free throws and dealt Raritan a serious blow when, on the next Rockets possession, he stole the ball and threw down a two-handed dunk to make it 47-40 with 42 seconds left.

"I knew it wasn't over at halftime and I was telling our guys we had to come out hard in the second half because they were going to make a run," Champeau said. "They are too well-coached and too tough to just lay down and give up on their season and to their credit, they fought us. That's not your everyday 15 seed."

Rumson's last win prior to Monday was also against Raritan in a one-sided, 60-39 win in Hazlet. In the first regular-season meeting between the Class A Central rivals, O'Connor beat the Rockets on a drive to the basket in the final seconds to give Rumson a one-point win.

After surviving the first round, Rumson will prepare to host No. 7 Bordentown on Wednesday. The Bulldogs and the Scotties have waged some memorable battles in recent Central Jersey Group II tournaments, with Rumson topping Bordentown, 59-49, in last year's sectional semifinals. Back in 2015, with Rumson fresh off winning the Shore Conference Tournament, Bordentown travelled to Rumson as the No. 8 seed and picked off the No. 4 Bulldogs in the sectional semifinals.

Although Rumson will be guaranteed another home game should it make the sectional semifinal, the Bulldogs are taking a chip on their collective shoulder into the next round - particularly the senior captains.

"I can remember the seniors last year saying during the state tournament before every game, 'This might be the last one so let's leave it out there,'" O'Connor said. "As a junior, you don't totally appreciate it because you don't feel that same pressure but now that Jackson and I are seniors, we definitely have that urgency. We want to keep our careers going and we want to keep defending our championship."

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