By Mark Kitchin
MADISON– The Madison boys basketball team found a different way to win on Thursday.
Senior guard Matt Gilbert scored 18 points to pace the unbeaten Dodgers in a 50-38 triumph over Hanover Park. The win lifts Madison to 7-0 on the season. Matt Williams led the Hornets with 13 points and 10 rebounds in the NJAC-Independence Division contest.
Most of Madison’s previous victories have been nail biting, down-to-the-wire contests. In their first six victories the Dodgers have won two games in overtime and two more with shots in the waning seconds of games. Nearly all of the games were tight battles. This time the formula for success was different. Madison built an early lead, learned to maintain it and found a way to repel Hanover Park’s late surge.
“We’ve had a lot of games this season where we came out rusty at first and then we put everything together in the last two quarters,’’ Gilbert said. “We came out a lot stronger tonight.’’
“It’s great to have that experience and know we can pull through in the last quarter but just for the health of our coach we should get some of these nice wins where we are up by ten,’’ junior forward Sean Haughey added. “Before the game we had a couple of seniors say a couple of words to pump us up. It helped us to play a good first half.’’
Madison’s Justin Goodwin harasses a Hanover Park ballhandler during Thursday’s contest.
The Dodgers are a different type of team this season. Matt McHale, Jake Meister, Aaron Fant and numerous other experienced standouts from the last several successful years have graduated. Only Gilbert remains from last year’s starters but new players have stepped up and filled in admirably.
“We have a lot of interchangeable parts,’’Madisoncoach Billy Librera said. “I feel that in the last couple of years, teams knew what was coming from us. They knew who our stalwarts were. Now we might get a different scorer on any given night. .. We’re trying to have fewer weaknesses and a very good team. That’s kind of our mentality.’’
Newcomers like rebounder Scott Jouan and perimeter threat Cameron Dias, seniors with little or no varsity experience, have given the team good balance and more options on the floor.
“Cameron has a great fundamental shot,’’ Librera said. “What were trying to do is spread the floor a little more — move the ball off the drive and kick. It’s more motion basketball.’’
Hanover Park’s Matt Williams (23) and Jimmy Sivolella (2) double team a Madison player in Thursday’s game.
Madison has more weapons to choose from and different ways to score.
“All of us can score at any time,’’ Haughey said. “No one team can key on one kid. You have to key on all five of us to beat us.’’
Madison threw in a 1-3-1 zone defense for the first time this season early in the contest and it rattled the Hornets a bit. Football standout Justin Goodwin was intense and aggressive up top while Haughey (6-foot-4), Gilbert (6-4) and Jouan (6-4) have long arms that reach across the width of the court. Their size is perfect for denying opponents a path to the basket, limiting the passing lanes and contesting perimeter shooters.
“It gets us out in transition and were pretty long,’’ Librera said. “We have lanky players which is why were looking to play some zone. It can make up for our lack of foot speed sometimes. We can contest shots and as long as we can put bodies on people, we can box out, too.’’
Madison built a 12-5 advantage in the first quarter and extended it to 27-16 at the half. Hanover Park, which is a largely inexperienced varsity squad this year, tried to rally and often got to the free throw line but couldn’t connect. The Hornets were 8 for 18 in the second half. They also didn’t have any luck from long range canning only 1 for 8 from behind the arc after halftime.
It wasn’t all relaxation for the Dodgers though. Madisonled 43-24 early in the fourth quarter but Hanover Park scrapped and battled and started chipping away. The Hornets went on a 14-4 run and cut their deficit to nine points when Max Reynolds knocked down a 3-pointer with 1:28 remaining to make it 47-38.
“We had a real good fundamental game plan at the beginning and then we got frazzled at the end,’’ Librera said. “That’s what this year is about. A lot of these kids are in new roles and new positions. We’re learning during the game and one of the biggest things that any team can do is learn how to finish the game. We went through a spell where we weren’t doing what got us the lead and we let them get back in. In the last two minutes we settled down and did some things and I think that we will learn from this and hopefully keep on getting better.’’
Madison’s Sean Haughey (33) battles for the ball in first half action against Hanover Park.
Maintaining a lead to earn a victory is something good teams must do. Even though getting out to a 7-0 start isn’t a complete surprise,Madisonwill have to get better at closing out opponents if it wants to continue with that success. The Dodgers already know they are being watched.
“I think teams are gunning for us now,’’ Gilbert said. “I think we have a target on our back. I think everybody in the county knows about us. Everyone we play will bring their better game.’’