By Mark Kitchin
“Gobble, gobble, gobble, gobble, gobble,’’ yelled the Roxbury fan. He was trying to distract James D’Angelo on the free throw line.
West Morris’ senior guard was unimpressed as he sank another free throw to put the Highlanders further ahead.
Guess who’s the turkey now?
D’Angelo knocked down 5-of-6 free throws in the final two minutes and West Morris came away with a 47-44 victory over Roxbury on Thursday night in Chester.
Clutch 3-point shooting and a focused defensive effort by the Highlanders in the paint made a difference. The Gaels’ center Angelo Mangiro had 15 points but West Morris battled for every rebound and made it difficult for the senior standout to have a monster game.
Once West Morris took the lead late they could put the ball in D’Angelo’s hands and he knocked down his free throws.
“I just tried to focus,’’ D’Angelo said. “I’ve shot a million of them. I just tried not to overthink them and just shoot.’’
The senior guard, who is 81 points away from 1,000 points, was annoyed after the game. It wasn’t a perfect performance but it was good enough to help West Morris to its ninth win in a row and it’s 14th of the season.
“When he has the basketball we’re in good shape,’’ West Morris coach Wayne Shapiro said. “We kid him. We tell him to go on UTube and look at film of (former Harlem Globetrotter) Marques Haynes.’’
D’Angelo has the mentality of a perfectionist, which has driven him to consistently improve his game since he began starting as a sophomore.
“He was a little down after the ball game,’’ Shapiro said. “He wants to make every shot, He wants to make every pass. He wants it to be perfect. He still won the ball game. They were big, big free throws.’’
D’Angelo praised his teammates up front especially Tom Cabarle and Max Gerardi. Cabarle is a good leaper and active on the boards. Gerardi is about as tall as Mangiro but gives up anywhere from 40 to 50 pounds in size. He kept a body on the Roxbury standout and tried to limit him from dumping passes to teammate Ike Iloh on the baseline.
“We definitely had to rebound,’’ D’Angelo said. “The first time we played them we really couldn’t stop them on the defensive end. Tommy is very feisty. He’s not afraid to stick his nose in there and do the dirty work. The same with Zach Nolan and Max gave us a big lift today.’’
A play where Mangiro sets up on the high post and dumps passes down to Iloh on the baseline was especially effective in Roxbury’s 64-61 win over West Morris on January 11. This time the Highlanders made it more difficult for the Gaels to execute it.
“We showed some help (defense) inside this time. We were very aware,’’ Shapiro said. “They were very effective with it the first game. We got better coverage when they caught at the high post and look inside. They were probably not as comfortable because the game was so close.’’
The contest was close throughout and should have been better attended since both teams are having excellent seasons. The Highlanders had a 23-19 lead at the half and there was one tie and two lead changes during in the third quarter.
West Morris led 31-29 going into the fourth period but Roxbury guard Michael Giordano knocked down a 3-point shot to give the Gaels the lead again. The Highlanders would take the lead for good when guard Chris Gaudio knocked down a 3-pointer with 2:45 left in regulation to make it 39-38.
“He came in off the bench,’’ Shapiro said. “All I told him when he went in is just play smart. Chris wants to help this team so much. This is one of the better games for him.’’
Mangiro was fouled while rebounding a Roxbury miss but missed the front end of a one-and-one. The Highlanders responded with a 3-pointer by Cabarle to make it 42-38.
The Gaels were 2-for-4 from the field in the final two minutes of play but also turned the ball over on a 3-second call. Giordano hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds to account for the final score as the buzzer sounded.
Both teams will now prepare for the Morris County Tournament quarterfinals. West Morris is seeded 10th and is ready for second-seeded Morristown-Beard, a team that eliminated the Highlanders in an early round MCT game last year. It is the second of the four games at Randolph High School on Saturday.
Roxbury is the eighth-seed and it will look to rebound against the Cinderella of the tournament, 17th-seeded Morristown in the day’s final contest.
Other games of note:
Mount Olive 69, Vernon 66, OT – A 16-11 fourth quarter run helped the Marauders tie the game at 56-all and send it to overtime. Justin Palanchi scored 18 for Mount Olive.
Chatham 51, Madison 47 – The Cougars get some revenge after fall to the Dodgers in the MCT on Saturday. Jake Meister had 22 points for Madison.
Morris Hills 49, Jefferson 47 – The Scarlet Knights win a close one. Evan Staikos led a balanced effort with 13.
Pequannock 57, Parsippany 51 – The Golden Panthers get back on track with Joe Vedovino scoring 20 points.
Mendham 71, Randolph 32; Morris Knolls 64, Parsippany Hills 23; Mountain Lakes 64, Whippany Park 52; Morris Catholic 66, Dover 42; Kinnelon 50, Boonton 32; Montville 47, High Point 34;