Boys Basketball – Rumson’s Run Ends in CJ 2 Semifinals
RUMSON - Jackson McCarthy said that between third and eighth grade, he and fellow senior Ian O'Connor hated each other while playing at different schools.
On Friday night, they stayed in the home locker room together and with the rest of their Rumson-Fair Haven teammates for as long as they could before walking out together one last time.
The last links to Rumson's two NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship teams, O'Connor and McCarthy ended their pursuit of a third title and their careers Friday with a 49-44 loss to Lincoln in front of a spirited home crowd that did their best to will the Bulldogs to victory.
"Ian and I were the biggest rivals from third to eighth grade - we hated each other," McCarthy recalled. "We came in freshman year, started playing AAU together and instantly we made it a goal to be the best we could possibly be and we just pushed each other everyday. I'll never forget it and I can't thank him enough for the last four years. He's my brother for life."
"The team is crushed and it's because they care," Rumson coach Chris Champeau said. "The rest of the team is really hurting because they feel like they let these guys down. They are our leaders and our guys played their hearts out for them all year."
O'Connor turned in 28 points to lead all scorers and came through with a number of key scores to keep the Bulldogs in the hunt against the Lions.
Two plays that did not go his way, however, turned out to be the difference. O'Connor had a basket that would have cut Lincoln's lead to 45-41 wiped away for an offensive foul call and missed just long on a potential game-tying three-point attempt with under 10 seconds to go.
"I kind of put my team and myself in jeopardy by fouling out of that game and I was trying to do everything I could do to support them," McCarthy said. "I tried to stay positive and show the guys I have their back just like I know they have mine."
McCarthy's final game came to a premature ending when the senior fouled out with five points and 7:15 still on the clock in the fourth quarter. Champeau elected to let McCarthy play with four fouls for the final five minutes of the third quarter and it paid off by Rumson finishing the quarter on a 10-1 run to close its deficit to 31-30.
Rumson trailed, 45-36, with under three minutes to go but was not finished. Junior Jack Carroll knocked down a three-pointer from the right corner to pull Rumson within six and O'Connor was whistled for the charge on Rumson's next possession.
O'Connor came right back and stole an attempt at a long inbound pass and ended the possession with a three out of the left corner to cut Lincoln's lead to 45-42. After Prime Payton hit one of two free throws for Lincoln, O'Connor hit a runner off the glass - a shot he has mastered in his four years at Rumson - to pull the Bulldogs within 46-44.
Senior Donte Darby again made one of two foul shots for the Lions with 16.4 seconds left, giving the Bulldogs a chance to tie the game with a three-pointer. O'Connor got a clean look from the right wing but his shot drew the back of the iron. Darby capped the win with two more free throws on the other end with 3.8 seconds left.
O'Connor is a three-year starter and a two-time sectional champion in Central Jersey Group II, while McCarthy came off the bench as a sophomore and was a part-time starter on a more senior-heavy Bulldogs team in 2017-18.
O'Connor began his career as a freshman when Brendan Barry was a senior. Barry shattered Rumson's all-time scoring record and left with 1,812 career points. O'Connor wrapped up his career with more than 1,400 and Barry is now the only person above him on the program's all-time scoring list.
"I was a freshman when Brendan lost his last game at Manasquan," O'Connor said. "he was crying, all the seniors were crying, I had know idea what to do and I started crying. I just felt bad for every one of them because I know how hard they worked. I was just telling (freshman Geoff Schroeder) to use this as fuel for the future instead of being upset over it."
"This is a particularly tough one for me because I have had Ian since third grade," Champeau said. "I have been calling him the Viking from day one. He has been like a son to me. He is just one of those blood-and-guts kids. It's almost like the ending of an era."
Both O'Connor and McCarthy were members of Rumson's Central Jersey Group III football team in the fall and will continue their college careers on the gridiron. O'Connor will play at Lehigh while McCarthy will suit up for William & Mary.
"I appreciate every single guy in that locker room and every single player that has come through this program in the last four years that I played with," O'Connor said. "I've never been around more hard-working kids in a more hard-working environment under Chris Champeau. It's really, truly amazing and I'm never going to forget it. It's a brotherhood for life."