Morris Knolls makes its point in win against Mendham

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

DENVILLE — “Hey Niko are you good for a point on Friday? ” Morris Knolls coach Ken Ferrare joked.

“Yes,” answered his player Niko Kotoulas giving the answer to his question as much gravity that it deserved, which was very little.

Morris Knolls senior forward fell just one point short of 1,000 for his high school career on Wednesday but he knew that his milestone was secondary to the 57 points the team scored in a 57-45 triumph against Mendham in an NJAC-National Division contest.

Esaun Mobley scored 20 points and Kotoulos added 11 for Morris Knolls (11-2). The victory was more important not only for division honors but also for Morris County Tournament seeding. The coaches meet on Sunday to decide the top seeds in the upcoming tourney. Kotoulas needed 12 points to reach his milestone which he should capture and surpass against Delbarton on Friday.

Nick Maguire had 16 points for Mendham(10-3). It was the Minutemen’s first division loss.

Morris Knolls never strayed away from its game plan to get Kotoulas his honor but the senior forward hoped to do it in front of a good home crowd and in front of such a worthy opponents. He had a chance to reach the milestone with 10.4 seconds left but his second of two free throws bounced away.

“I wanted it to be over,’’ Kotoulas said. “I wanted to get done with it. That’s why I tried to finish it near the end (of the game) so we could move on. It’s an honor — but winning a county championship — that’s how you would be better remembered.’’

Morris Knoll’s Niko Kotoulos faces a wall of bodies in front of the basket late in Wednesday’s victory against Mendham.

The list of 1,000-point scorers wearing a Golden Eagles uniform includes current County College of Morris coach Jamie Ciampaglio, Stephen Kmetz, who was at the game and is the last player to reach the 1,000-point milestone for the school in 1989 and John Brennan. Kevin McClain is the leading scorer in school history with 1,423 points. He set that mark in 1973.

Although Kotoulas has always been capable of scoring a lot of points, it has never been a skill he has dwelled upon. The 6-foot-5 athlete has worked on all facets of his game from deft passing skills to ballhandling to rebounding and boxing out on defense.

“He’s a team guy,’’ Mobley said. “He rebounds, he gives assists, he does everything. That’s why we love Niko.’’

“He’s a team player,’’ Ferrare said. “It’s all about winning. I think more than anything he just wants to get this out of the way. I think he is fully capable of scoring a point (on Friday).”

Mendham’s Drew Jacobs (21) is stripped of the ball on the way to the basket during Wednesday’s game against Morris Knolls.

In the final minutes of the game, once Mendham had fallen behind by double digits, the Minutemen did their best to make sure Kotoulas would not reach his record easily if at all. They fouled several of his Golden Eagles teammates early in possessions in order to get the ball back but also seemed intent on making sure that Kotoulas would not reach his milestone against them.

 “I’d say so,’’ Kotoulas said. “I wouldn’t be surprised but what’s important is we won the game and that’s about it.’’

After a close first quarter in which both teams fooled with zone defenses that weren’t very successful, Morris Knolls pulled ahead with an 11-4 second quarter burst. Mobley hit two of his five three-point shots in the quarter and the Golden Eagles were able to build a 24-15 edge at the half.

“Esaun had a very good shooting game and a very good defensive game,’’ Ferrare said. “He’s been having a great year. There are a lot of positive things about how he’s been leading us. He’s been terrific.’’

The Golden Eagles wanted to gain the edge in the rebounds. Tall players like Kotoulas and 6-foot-7 Kevin Miller, helped to limit the Minutemen’s chances at repeat scoring opportunities.

“The keys to the game were to play defense and rebound,’’ Kotoulas said. “That was about it. We knew the offense would come.’’

Morris Knolls also knew it was important to get a hand out on Mendham’s 3-pointer shooters. Andrew Jacobs and Tom Reifsnyder have some proficiency outside the arc and needed to be respected.

“We practiced box-and-one defense but we went man-to-man,’’ Mobley said. “If we went zone the whole game, they were going to shoot us out of it. So we went man and it ended up working better than we thought it would. In practice, we toughed up and practiced getting around screens.’’

Morris Knolls’ Michael Signer grabs a rebound over Mendham’s Tom Reifsnyder during Wednesday’s triumph.

The times that Mendham pushed the ball to the basket, the Minutemen were playing right into a Morris Knolls’ strength.

“You have to make them drive,’’ Mobley said. “We have Kevin (Miller) and he’s 6-foot-7 inside. He stops them and we come in for the block and we ended up double teaming them all the time.’’

The Minutemen cut the Golden Eagles lead to as little as five points late in the third quarter but threes by Mobley and Brian O’Neil helped Morris Knolls build a 39-29 advantage going into the fourth quarter. The third period was also Kotoulas’ most productive. He had seven points including a 3-point play off a layup and a putback of his own miss in the lane.

“What is terrific about these guys is that they are very unselfish,’’ Ferrare said. “This is the most unselfish team I’ve ever coached. They move the ball around. Who ever is open they hit him. If somebody misses someone that is open, it’s an apology. They look to play as a team.’’

Mendham still kept within range and was only down seven points with less than six minutes remaining. However, the Minutemen were unproductive on offense late in the game and were eventually forced to foul. It didn’t bother Morris Knolls which was 13 of 16 on the free throw line in the final quarter and never let Mendham back into the contest.

Next Morris Knolls has a date with Delbarton in a home game and Kotoulas can take care of business early against an uncharacteristic Green Wave team that will be hungry for a win.  

“He’ll get his thousandth,’’ Ferrare said. “Its youth night and all the kids that wear their jerseys will get in free. Hopefully, we’ll have a good crowd and a good environment and he will get it then.’’

Other scores of note:

Morristown-Beard 66, Whippany Park 48 – Brian Bartner scored 20 points and Chris Jenkins added 19 to help the Crimson remain unbeaten at 11-0. Jake Waddon paced the Wildcats with 18 points.

Mount Olive 100, High Point 62 – The Marauders using their frenetic style of play reached the century mark for the first time this season. Zach Heeman, Kevin Miller and Justin Palanchi each scored 20 points.

Roxbury 48, Parsippany Hills 40 – Doug Alexander scored 14 points and Ryan Kelley and Malcolm Chavis scored 12 each for the Gaels.

Jefferson 64, Vernon 52 – Jon Kristoffersen had 21 and Drew Hall added 16 for the Falcons.

Pope John 69, Morris Hills 65; Morristown 65, West Morris 55.

 

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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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