Mount Olive machine rolls past Jefferson

By Mark Kitchin


MOUNT OLIVE — Mount Olive coach Kevin Moore felt there was something missing even though his team had a halftime lead against Jefferson and seemed to be on target. The Marauders did win their game but the second-year coach was expecting much more from his squad.

Sophomore center Zach Heeman scored 28 points and Mount Olive kept rolling with a 94-77 triumph over Jefferson in boys basketball action on Wednesday.

Tyler McEvoy added 16 points and Rashaan Spencer chipped in with 10 for the Marauders (10-4). Jon Kristofferson scored 15 points and Drew Hall added 14 for the Falcons (9-6).

Mount Olive got off to a quick start and led 24-13 after the first quarter. The Marauders took a 51-36 advantage at the half and built a 24-point edge midway through the third quarter. However, Jefferson showed some grit and at one point cut its deficit to 10 points late in the final period. Mount Olive scored the final seven points of the contest.

Mount Olive’s Steve Leonardo fires a shot over Jefferson’s Ken Ginefra during the first half of Wednesday’s game.

When Jefferson went to the locker room trailing Mount Olive 51-36, the Marauders sat in their chairs on the basketball court sidelines and heard their coaches concerns. It’s standard practice at Mount Olive, just one of many unorthodox elements that Moore has introduced to the Marauders program this year.

“We need to be playing better basketball,’’Moore said. “The execution and the energy level on the shifts are not up to our own standards. I know it’s tough. Our job is to come up with innovative ways to keep the kids motivated but we really expected tonight to have a better showing. It’s throwing the ball away. It’s defensive rebounding. We just didn’t have the focus. I told the guys that you have to have a higher standard to get better.’’

Mount Olive is one of the big stories of the Morris Countybasketball season because of their willingness to try something completely different and unorthodox. The Marauders are running the Grinnell system which is patterned after the success of a Division III college in Iowa a decade ago. It is a high octane, run-and-gun offense that encourages pushing the ball for open 3-pointers and layups on offense and constant defensive pressure which forces opposing teams to make mistakes. The goal is to score 100 points, which they have only done once

In order to truly make use of the Grinnell system the Marauders must make its share of perimeter shots. On Wednesday, after hitting eight 3-point shots in the first half, they were a woeful 1 of 11 from behind the arc in the second half. It’s understandable for opponents with tired legs to suffer this way, but the Marauders have been training to play this way since the summer and should be getting better results.

“It’s hit or miss,’’Moore said. “We need to have consistency in shooting the basketball. I thought we would have had that by now. We haven’t had a game in which our preferred shooters have all been hitting together. Sometimes we will have one guy, but we need everybody.’’

Mount Olive averages more than 80 points a contest and has scored in the 90’s numerous times including both wins against Jefferson. Now that teams know about the Marauders and their system the trick will be to put more wrinkles in it so teams will be less prepared for it

Mount Olive’s Zac Heeman puts up a shot over Jefferson’s Kevin Silverstein. Marauders’ James Pastena (5) looks on.

“We have to continue to evolve,’’Moore said. “It’s hard to get good at everything when you are constantly making adjustments. … We’re hiding and disguising different looks, throwing in some different pressures and scrambles. It’s hard because even if you get different effects you still have to stay true to the system and make sure everyone is on the same page.’’

One weapon that some teams will have a tough time preparing for is the play of Zack Heeman. The Mount Olive sophomore center is 6-foot-7 and may just beginning to realize his potential as a tall player with terrific agility.

“He comes and works really hard,’’Moore said. “He’s done every single thing we’ve asked him to do. He’s made incredible gains. He’s still growing into his body. Were working on his right hand making sure he’s more multifaceted around the basket.’’

The Grinnell system may not be the most ideal for big guys considering it involves running the floor and putting up perimeter jumpers, but Heeman’s play is pivotal on both ends of the floor. Teams have to respect his inside presence on both offense and defense.

“As long as I can keep running, I can get open layups,’’ Heeman said. “Once I start doing some damage down low I can get a lot of double teams and it is easy kick outs for them (perimeter shooters). They hit them. They always hit them.’’

Since Mount Olive’s defense involves a variety of full and half-court traps it’s good to have a player in the paint that opposing teams have to think twice about if they want to drive to the hoop.

“He’s like a big distraction for us,’’ McEvoy said. “And he’s huge on rebounds.’’

Another aspect of the system is that Mount Olive substitutes often, mainly in groups of five. Freshman coach Lee Clowers jokes that he is more of an ice hockey coach, clocking shifts in and out and charting their success on the floor. A player like McEvoy — who is a lacrosse midfielder in the spring — has no problem with the system.

“We’re very deep and everyone is getting a lot of playing time,’’ McEvoy said. “There have been no complaints. Each shift is about a minute. If someone needs a break or if a kid is hot and shooting a lot of threes, they can keep them in (or out) for longer but it all depends on the play of the game. There’s too main lines but they change them up depending upon who is hot and who is playing well.’’

The goal is to run fresh legs as much as possible and win the battle of attrition. Mount Olive often does that but Moore still doesn’t like the sloppiness. In between bursts of solid play there were too many bad passes and poor decisions to his liking on Wednesday. Often the 3-point shots are rushed and just aren’t being made with consistency in the second half.

Mount Olive’s Rich Notillo (2) drives against a Jefferson defender during the first half of the Marauder’s triumph.

 The goal is 100 points and the day after every game if the Marauders don’t reach that goal, they have to run a lap on their outdoor track for every point they fall short. On Thursday, Mount Olive will be running — probably in the rain.

Mount Olive took control early and built a 24-13 first-half run which included six points each from Heeman and McEvoy. The Marauders led 51-36 at the half and opened the third quarter with a Jim Pastena 3-pointer. His shot keyed a 13-6 run and gave the Marauders a 22-point advantage at the four-minute mark.

Mount Olive seemed in control at 70-50 after three periods but Jefferson started chipping away. The Falcons are not the tallest team but they have good balance and some shooters that can knock down open attempts on the perimeter. Drew Hall, Evan Rapp, Jeff Oster, Kristofferson didn’t seem to mind the Mount Olive tempo. In both games against the Marauders, the Falcons mounted late rallies and took advantage of mistakes.

Midway through the fourth quarter Jefferson put on a 14-6 run with the help of a 3-point play by Kristofferson and 3-point shots by Hall and reserve Jeremy DeCotiis. They got the game to within 87-77 with under a minute left before the Marauders spread the floor and found Heeman for a pair of scores to finish the game.

Other games of note:

Randolph 65, Morris Knolls 51 – The Rams gave the Golden Eagles their first Morris County loss. Julian Aiken had 24 points and Ryan Harris had 13 for Randolph. Niko Kotoulas had 14 and Esaun Mobley added 13 for Morris Knolls.

Morristown-Beard 72, Boonton 35 – The Crimson improve to 14-0. Chris Jenkins had 18 points and seven rebounds. The Crimson took control early with a 26-3 first-quarter burst.

Morristown 72, Parsippany Hills 69 – Ryan Brunnock scored 25 points and Sean Hoehn had 23 for the Colonials.

Mendham 48, Roxbury 30 – Drew Jacobs scored 25 points in a rematch of last year’s MCT finalists.

Montville 60, Morris Hills 55 – A 19-9 third-quarter run sparked the Mustangs. Tom Przetak led all scorers with 22 points for Montville. Ranell Bell had 19 for the Scarlet Knights.

Parsippany 37, Morris Catholic 35 – The Red Hawks triumph behind Lione Chambers’ 14 points.

Whippany Park 65, Kinnelon 57; Mountain Lakes 57, Butler 50


About mcvbb

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

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