MCT Final between Mendham and Roxbury will be special

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

It was only minutes after a Mendham-Roxbury boys basketball game when two ladies approached Roxbury’s standout player Angelo Mangiro.

“Oh were from Mendham,’’ one of them said. “And I know we just lost to you but we really enjoyed watching you play and we wanted to meet you.’’

“We know you are going to play football at Penn State next year,’’ the other said. “We thought that maybe next year you might be able to get us some tickets.’’

The ladies were teasing of course but when mothers and grandmothers of the basketball team you just beat want to come over and talk to you, then something special must be going on.

In a way something will be on Saturday. Both Mendham and Roxbury are trying to achieve something no one has seen before. Mendham is trying to become the first boys basketball team in Morris County Tournament history to win four consecutive titles.

Roxbury is trying to win its first MCT boys basketball title ever and trying to give the Gaels program their first title of any kind in 75 years on the hardcourt.

The contest is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the County College of Morris in Randolph.

The teams have played each other twice in two wildly different games. It was only the second game of the year when Mendham crushed Roxbury 64-32 in a non-competitive game on December 21 at Mendham.

There was a little more on the line in the rematch held on February 21 on the Roxbury High gym floor. The Gaels won 63-52 on a night where Mangiro became the only third Gaels player ever to register his 1,000th career point. The game dealt a crippling blow to the Minutemen’s chances of winning the NJAC National Division. Both teams ended up tying each other for second place behind Delbarton.

The game was also played without Mendham’s top starter Tore Vicarisi who was ill that evening. Vicarisi should be rested and ready to play in the Saturday contest.

Roxbury’s Ike Iloh and Mendham’s Kyle Dennis may play important roles in Saturday’s MCT final.

The teams have identical records at 16-7 and neither is coming in on a roll. In the ultra-competitive NJAC-National, both have endured quite a beating over the course of the season.

Mendham is trying to break a two-game losing streak with back-to-back losses to Roxbury and West Morris this past week. Although Roxbury did top Mendham last Monday, they fell in overtime Morris Knolls in the team’s final regular season game on Thursday.

Mendham has had a solid tournament run. The Minutemen defeated 14th-seeded Jefferson 68-35 in the opening round. Although 11th-seeded Mountain Lakes put up a struggle, the Minutemen prevailed 58-51 in the quarterfinal. The semifinals against West Morris were a tough physical affair. Mendham overcame a strong West Morris run late in the game and survived with a 42-40 victory.

Despite recent struggles, third-seeded Mendham has to be considered the favorite once again. One reason is experience. The Minutemen have been in this situation many times before. In last year’s MCT and in their Group III state tournament run the Vicarisi’s, Kyle Dennis, Andrew Jacobs and others saw valuable minutes in pressure situations.

Offensively, Mendham runs deliberate sets. Jacobs is the key ballhandler in an offense where all five players work on making tight passes and precise cuts to the basket. Vicarisi is fearless at going to the basket and great at drawing contact. He can also pop out for the occasional 3-point shot. Once he establishes his presence inside, he can also kick the ball back out for 3-point shots for Colin O’Donnell and Jacobs.

O’Donnell is the Minutemen’s most serious perimeter threat, usually hitting about three a game. Jacobs, the team’s junior point guard, has had stretches of shooting difficulty but when he’s on he becomes another perimeter threat and had a season-high 26 points in last week’s game against Roxbury. Kyle Dennis is an important shutdown defender on the defense end. He can drive to the basket but his major assets are his rebounding and shot blocking abilities. Alex Vicarisi can also knock down shots but is more prized for his defensive play.

Mendham employs man-to-man defense but will throw some wrinkles including a 1-3-1 zone to change the pace. The Minutemen also put good pressure on the ball and play their lanes well. Jesse Oringer, Casey Dennis and Will Gibbs are the key players off the bench. They have been getting more playing time in recent weeks.

The dilemma for most teams is whether to try and shut down Vicarisi with his inside scoring capability or to concentrate on the rest of the Minutemen and let the senior forward score his points. Mendham finds the same situation in dealing with Mangiro.

Roxbury’s Angelo Mangiro has drawn rave reviews from even opposing team’s fans.

He is 6-foot-4 and 270, but agile for his size, has great hands, has good passing skills and is extremely unselfish. Shaun O’Donnell and Ike Iloh are the main beneficiaries of his passes. O’Donnell can nail shots from the wing and drive to the basket, often creating his own opportunities. Iloh’s scoring opportunities have been limited lately. In mid-season, the Gaels got a lot of production with Mangiro feeding Iloh on the low block. Defenses have caught up with them but Iloh is still effective as a low post rebounder and defender.

Senior point guard Michael Giordano can also hit from the perimeter. His importance is in running the offense and handling the ball. He can also hit free throws down the stretch. Ryan Roumes doesn’t have much of a role in the offense. The senior role player is a scrappy defensive player and intense competitor. Roumes and Giordano form the top of the Gaels active 2-3 zone. Mangiro’s presence allows them to be aggressive out in the wings. All their starters are great at collapsing the zone when the ball gets inside or firing out on the perimeter when teams try to kick the ball back out.

Junior Andrew Volpe is usually first off the bench. He often spells Mangiro when he needs a break or helps the Gaels when they need to get bigger up front. Ryan Kelley and Kevin Bischoff are the top guards off the bench. Kelley, a sophomore, missed three weeks with a leg injury but came back to hit a pair of key free throws in the semifinal win over Delbarton.

The eighth-seeded Gaels routed Parsippany Hills in a preliminary matchup then got even with Mount Olive 57-49, avenging a loss in the Hopatcong Holiday Tournament final. They eliminated 17th-seeded Morristown, the Cinderella team which upset top-seeded Pequannock, in a 58-42 quarterfinal game. Roxbury’s 53-52 win over Delbarton was a nailbiter in a very dramatic semifinal doubleheader. The Gaels held off a late Green Wave charge to advance to the final for the first time.

When it comes to intangibles both teams are very well coached. For more than 30 years, Baglin has developed a program that has earned the respect of coaches throughout the state. Roxbury coach Jon Deeb has also earned his dues. A former point guard, he fed Chris Jent when he played for Sparta High. He has helped the Gaels program over the last decade and has taken them to the semifinal round two other times before finally breaking through this year.

The Gaels have a touch more depth, the Minutemen have more experience. It should be fun. If the final is anything like last week’s semifinals, everyone should be prepared for another thrilling finish.

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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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