By Mark Kitchin
Scott Curran has hit game winning-shots before, but never with a division title on the line. On Thursday, the Delbarton senior guard proved once again that he’s a clutch player when the clock runs down.
Curran hit a scoop shot with five seconds left to lift Delbarton to a 55-53 victory and clinch a Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference – National Division title in a contest in Long Valley.
Senior forward Dean Brierley scored 15 points and Wade Morgan 14 for the Green Wave. Delbarton had captured a share of the title with a win earlier in the week when Mendham lost to West Morris on Tuesday. The triumph gave them their second consecutive NJAC title outright. The Green Wave captured the American Division last year.
Senior forward Tom Cabarle scored 21 points and Zach Nolan and James D’Angelo each chipped in with 10 points apiece. West Morris went on a 16-0 run and built a 46-35 lead late in the third quarter but Delbarton rallied down the stretch and caught West Morris midway through the fourth quarter.
“It feels great,’’ Delbarton guard Wade Morgan said. “The conference has a lot of great teams in it and we were proud of ourselves that we were able to win.’’
Delbarton’s Dean Brierley shoots over West Morris’ Max Gerardi in Thursday’s game.
“We were kind of disappointed Saturday that we didn’t make it to the county finals,’’ added Curran who had eight points on Thursday. “This was good. The four teams in the semifinals were all from this division. It’s the best division so it’s good to come out on top.’’
Curran has experience in hitting game-winners this year. He did it in a triumph against Randolph earlier in the season. On the winning play, his was the third option at best, but he dribbled in from the right side of the court, beat his man and a help defender and scooped a layup off the backboard with time running down.
“We ran a baseline screen for Dean knowing that if they cheat on it – which everybody does – there are two options,’’ Delbarton coach Dan Whalen said. “One is to go to Kevin (Dunleavy) – and he was wide open – or triple penetrate. Scott did a great job with triple penetration and took it by himself.’’
Brierley, who averages 25 points a game, always draws plenty of attention. His teammates know that when he draws the defense, there are scoring opportunities out there.
“It was intended for Dean,’’ Curran said. “He’s the best player we have. We tried to reverse the ball and let Dean come around but they knew it was coming for Dean. Three or four guys went to Dean and I just saw a lane open and attacked. … I didn’t think I was going to get there in time so I scooped it.’’
The win gives the Green Wave the best two out of three this season. Delbarton embarrassed West Morris 66-39 in the opening game of the season. Ten days later in the J.P. Flynn Tournament, the Highlanders responded with a change to zone defense and a 57-54 victory.
“When you play in this conference night after night you see a lot and you know you are always in a game,’’ Whalen said. “Resiliency is ingrained pretty well into your guys when you play in this conference.’’
The game also featured an interesting battle between two talented point guards, West Morris’ D’Angelo and Delbarton’s Morgan.
“The one thing he’s pretty good at is getting in the lane and setting up for his teammates,’’ Wade said. “After he sets them up, he gets open shots because of the people flying out. The message for me today was to keep him in front of me and limit his touches.’’
Delbarton’s Scott Curran puts up a shot in Thursday’s victory over West Morris.
Delbarton led 17-14 at the end of the first quarter and built a 35-28 advantage at the half. However, West Morris seemed to be in complete control when it mounted an 18-0 rally. Cabarle, who had a strong overall performance, knocked down a pair of threes during the run which gave West Morris a 46-35 advantage with 2:39 left in the third quarter.
“Coach sat us down and called two time outs,’’ Morgan said. “We collected our minds and got back to focusing on our game. We weren’t executing. We weren’t getting rebounds. People were getting open shots on fast break ball reversals. It was simple stuff that we were messing up. After we corrected that, the game turned around.’’
A 5-2 run with the help of a Dunleavy 3-pointer narrowed the Highlanders’ advantage to 48-40 going into the final period.
West Morris went cold and Delbarton started the quarter with an 11-2 run of its own. Brierley scored four points and Dunleavy knocked down another three during the spree. A Rob Thoma layup off a Curran feed gave Delbarton the lead at 51-50 with 3:50 left.
Neither team was able to get quality shots down the stretch. A Cabarle free throw to tie the score was met with a Morgan runner at the 3-minute mark to give Delbarton a 53-51 edge. West Morris’ Nolan hit a foul line jumper off a Charlie Savite pass inside of two minutes to even the game at 53.
Both teams missed scoring opportunities so with 58.7 seconds left Whalen called timeout to set up the final shot in regulation. After Curran’s bucket, the Highlanders tried to get the ball in quickly, but Dunleavy intercepted the ball on the inbounds pass to end the threat.
Delbarton’s next challenge is their state tournament opener against DePaul next week. An old rival from the old Northern Hills Conference days, the Green Wave lost to the Spartans by three points in Flynn Tournament play.
“That was the worst part of the season,’’ Curran said. “We had three loses in a row. We definitely want to get revenge and hopefully make a run at the states.’’
Other games of note:
Morris Knolls 55, Roxbury 48, 2OT – The Golden Eagles with a 12-5 run in their second overtime period. The Gaels were hoping to win and a Delbarton loss in order to get a share of the National Division title.
Pequannock 58, Eastern Christian 41 – Joe Vedovino scored 25 points in a non-conference contest for the Golden Panthers (18-4).
Immaculata 56, Morristown-Beard 55 – The Crimson were scheduled to play Mendham but picked up a different opponent. Chris Jenkins scored 24 for Mo-Beard (16-6).
Madison 60, Chatham 50 – Jake Meister scored 22 points to help the Dodgers win 2 of 3 from neighboring rivals.
West Milford 76, Jefferson 60 – Evan Valentini scored 18 for the Falcons. The Highlanders pulled away with a 26-17 third-quarter run.
Hanover Park 73, Dover 46; Morris Hills 64, Morristown 57; Mount Olive 79, Boonton 45; Mountain Lakes 96, Butler 64.