Morris Knolls Tops Morris Hills in Rivalry Game

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

Morris Knolls’  faithful followers were committed to storming the basketball court on Tuesday night. The burning memory of last year’s Scarlet Knights celebration in their gym was still planted within their collective memory.

Even though the court was somewhat neutral this year, the Golden Eagles enjoyed every moment of it.

Senior forward Niko Kotoulas scored 22 points and junior guard Esaun Mobley added 16 to lift Morris Knolls to a 55-39 triumph over rival Morris Hills in a rivalry game that was played at County College of Morris in Randolph.

Senior guard V Simpson Turner scored 12 points and Ranell Bell had 11 for Morris Hills. The Scarlet Knights took leads of 8-0 and 15-5 to start the game but a variety of full-court pressures got the Golden Eagles back in the game by halftime and helped them pull away in the fourth quarter.

“It was one of the greatest days ever,’’ Kotoulas said. “It was enjoyable. It was amazing overall game and we finished unbelievably. The atmosphere was unbelievable and our fans were great.’’

“It was exciting the whole game,’’ Mobley said. “We came out at halftime and knew we had to win for our school.’’

The game was part of a boy-girl doubleheader played at the community college. Both boys teams are enjoying winning seasons. It was decided to hold the non-conference contest at CCM because school officials thought it would have been difficult to accommodate everyone who wanted to watch the contest in the Scarlet Knights small gym. The decision proved to be a good one since both schools brought great crowds and were in good spirits.

“It was a great idea to switch it here,’’ Morris Knolls coach Ken Ferrare said. “It was a great environment. A lot of people would have been closed out if we would have had it at Hills. It was a lot of fun.’’

Morris Knolls’ Kevin Miller defends Morris Hill’s Antonio Castro in Tuesday’s contest.

Kotoulas, who led all scorers, was playing with a heavy heart thinking about a classmate who suffered a seizure and died on Tuesday.

“He was a good friend of ours and I played for him today,’’ Kotoulas said. “It really motivated everybody today to get the win. I was heartbroken after hearing about his loss.’’

“He’s an emotional player and a great kid,’’ Ferrare said of Kotoulas. “He has to learn to channel his emotions but he’s been much better at it from freshman to sophomore to junior year and he’s still getting better at it.’’

It was full-court pressure that helped the Golden Eagles rebound from a slow start. Normally high school teams don’t like to press on a court as wide as at CCM; however the Golden Eagles home court is one of the widest of the high school teams in Morris County.

“When the half came and we were only down by two we felt good about our pressure,’’ Ferrare said. “We did a 1-2-2 full and a 2-2-1 full. We had five different defenses so we changed it up a lot.’’

Ferrare praised some of his reserves including senior Rob Sinegra who plays a key role on the Golden Eagles’ pressure. Forcing the action full court was something Morris Knolls was comfortable doing.

“They really didn’t have any ballhandlers so we decided to press and scare them a little bit,’’ Mobley said. “You just have to move around and be athletic (on the wide floor). You have to move your feet.’’

Morris Knolls guard Esaun Mobley grabs a loose ball after a wild scramble during Tuesday’s contest.

Morris Knolls rallied with a 17-9 second-quarter effort to cut its deficit to 24-22 at the half. There were six lead changes and three ties in the third period but the Golden Eagles started to pull away at the end of the quarter. Bruce Mayo helped the cause with a pair of buckets to give Morris Knolls a 40-34 advantage going into the final quarter.

The Golden Eagles started the final period with a Mobley 3-point shot and then a Kotoulos’ steal off pressure paid off when Mobley fed it right back to him for a fast break layup and a 45-34 lead with 7:15 left.

After a timeout Morris Hills’ Jamie Machak knocked down a 3-pointer to cut the lead back to eight, but Mobley made a steal and a dunk to regain momentum and inspire the Golden Eagles players and fans with 4:25 left.

“It was the first dunk of my career,’’ Mobley said. “I got to do it against my rival school.’’

Morris Knolls kept its double-digit lead the rest of the way and happily got a measure of revenge from last year by celebrating a special victory against their rivals.

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About mcvbb

Mark Kitchin is a boys varsity basketball writer for the Morris County New Jersey area

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