By Mark Kitchin
CHATHAM — Defense has always been known to keep a team in the game even if they appear overmatched at the start. The Chatham Cougars have been struggling in recent weeks and are playing without some of their top starters but it didn’t stop them from toppling previously unbeaten Madison 54-49 in overtime on Wednesday.
Drew Ballard and Joe Timmes scored 13 points apiece and Luke Conrad had 11 to spark the Chatham triumph. The Cougars are 8-2. Scott Jouan scored 14 points and Sean Haughey scored 13 for Madison which dropped to 8-1. The Dodgers sent the game into overtime when Haughey hit on a dramatic 3-point bank shot just before the buzzer sounded. However Chatham outscored Madison 6-1 in the overtime period.
Chatham’s Colin Brown stands tall against a Madison opponent along the baseline during Wednesday’s Chatham victory.
“They were 7-0 going in so we wanted to get the victory,’’ Conrad said. “We had a lot of guys stepping up and filling roles when they were needed.’’
The Cougars made no changes in team preparation despite being short some of their more experienced personnel.
“Coach (Todd) Ervin just keeps telling us to stay focused on the game,’’ said Timmes. “We always stay prepared. We always try to watch some film. We prepare ourselves the best we can — even the guys on crutches. We just try to stick to our assignments and play every game with effort.’’
Chatham has been the unluckiest team in the county with regard to injuries. The Cougars lost their top returning scorer and ballhandler when Jonathan Berntsen suffered a torn meniscus in a contest against Morristown during the holiday tournament season. He had surgery last week and the Cougars are hoping to have him back in February. Another top starter 6-foot-4 Sam Carson has been lost indefinitely with a broken leg. They were also down several other players for various reasons giving Conrad, Scott Baker and Robert Raiola an opportunity to play prime-time minutes on the varsity level.
“The kids stepped it up,’’ Ervin said. “That’s what it’s about. They got their opportunity and they came through.
“Raiola played great, Conrad played great. Scott Baker played great, three guys that normally are not in our rotation — are in our rotation. Conrad has been starting since Jonathan went out. We knew he was good. Raiola was starting jayvee as of last week, now he’s playing for us.”
Chatham’s Joe Timmes guards Madison’s Scott Jouan during the Cougars triumph on Wednesday.
Ervin never keeps anyone on the court unless they are committed to playing hard man-to-man defense which includes plenty of help defense and communication. Despite suffering some height mismatches against their lanky opponents, the Cougars did not give the Dodgers any easy baskets and kept their neighboring rivals in scoring range all game long.
“We knew some guys were strong with their threes so we pressured those guys up top,’’ Timmes said. “Offensively, we just tried to get the best looks we could and take open threes when we had them.’’
Ervin said his team just wanted to test the Madison shooters and limit the number of shots they took. The Cougars were determined not to give the Dodgers second and third scoring opportunities.
“We had to contest all the shots,’’ Conrad said. “We wanted to make sure that we were playing up on them. Most of their players like to drive. We tried to play a lot of good help defense and box out, too. Boxing out was the key because they are a very good offensive rebounding team.’’
Chatham could have easily folded up going into the overtime period. The Cougars fought tenaciously to maintain their lead in the final four minutes of the game and were up by three when the Dodgers gained possession and called a time out with 9.9 seconds remaining in regulation. The play — which started from mid-court — had Matt Gilbert dribbling the ball to the top of the key before releasing it to Haughey. The Madison guard took a couple of dribbles, faked left and moved to the right of a defender before releasing a shot that banked tightly off the backboard and into the net in the final seconds.Chatham took the miraculous shot in stride.
“We said that we had to keep our heads in the game,’’ Conrad said. “We had to keep playing and keep our heads up because we knew we could win this game.’’
The overtime was controlled by Chatham which received a free throw lane jumper from Conrad, a pair of Colin Brown free throws and a layup by sophomore Raiola (who finished the game with five points). Baker, who had seven points including a 3-pointer in the second quarter, didn’t score in the overtime but took Timmes place when he fouled out midway through the extra period and finished well
Meanwhile, Madison went 0 for 6 from the field and seemed to fade after Haughey fouled out with two minutes left in the five-minute overtime. The victory can only boost the Chatham player’s spirits, especially the ones stepping up to more varsity playing time.
“I think were moving forward,’’ Conroy said. “I think were going to be a better team when we get Sam and Jonathan back; right now we are playing really well and doing our best to combat the injuries.’’
Chatham’s Thomas Stephan delivers a pass while Madison’s Cameron Dias defends in first half action.
The Cougars led 13-12 after the first quarter and trailed 19-18 at half. The Dodgers looked ready to take control of the game when they went on a 12-4 third-quarter run. Seven of the points came from Haughey, including a rare 4-point play when he knocked down a shot from the left just outside the arc, was fouled and hit his free throw to give Madison a 34-26 edge.
The Cougars made up for it with a 7-0 run of their own with the help of a Timmes’ 3-point shot which made it a 34-33 game with 5:52 left in the fourth quarter. The Cougars would eventually catch and pass the Dodgers and at one point build a 5-point lead when Ballard’s driving layup made it a 43-38 game at the 3-minute mark.
However, Chathamwas never able to shake Madison. Missed free throws by Ballard and Conroy kept the Dodgers in range. Even though Haughey nailed his dramatic shot, Madison couldn’t sustain momentum and now after suffering its first loss the Dodgers will have to prepare for Friday’s home game against unbeaten opponent Morristown-Beard.