By Mark Kitchin
RANDOLPH — Julian Aiken and his Randolph teammates always knew they could score points, but now the Rams understand that they could never be winners if they didn’t believe in their defense.
Randolph used its defense and some scoring from Aiken, too in a 68-32 rout on Tuesday. Aiken, the leading scorer in Morris County and among the state leaders, scored 29 points. Randolph (11-6) broke the game open with a 23-5 second-quarter effort to build a 36-18 halftime edge. Randolph never let up and expanded on its advantage the rest of the way.
“Everyone was focused and we played a great game,’’ Aiken said. “I would say it was our defense basically. We pressured the ball, getting fast breaks and really killing them. We were in a man-to-man (defense). We were locking up our men. They were missing shots and we were boxing out, getting rebounds and pushing the ball.”
Randolph’s Greg Mahoney draws a charge on Morristown’s Ryan Brunnock in first half action of Tuesday’s game.
Randolph is a versatile squad that can play defense a variety of different ways. After a close first quarter in which the Rams had most of their defensive players with a foot in the lane, the second quarter saw Randolph throw in some full-court pressure which caused problems for Morristown especially since two of their ballhandlers. Sophomore point guard Sean Hoehn and experienced guard Dylan Black were both out with injuries.
“We don’t let teams get into what they want to do,’’ Aiken said. “We make them adjust to our game. It’s kind of harassing them to get them out of their game and then clog up the lanes. In the fourth quarter, by the way we play our game, teams usually die out.’’
It’s taken awhile for Randolph to get into a defense-first mentality. The Rams struggled through a 4-19 season last year in which a senior laden squad just didn’t get around to accepting it
In the offseason, Rams coach Bill Kilduff changed the teams offseason regimen and set the guidelines for a much more productive Randolph team.
“We worked crazy hard in the offseason,’’ Aiken said. “Coach Kilduff had us practice, games, fall league, practice, games, fall league, just working, working, working. Not just practice but in the weight room, lifting conditioning and running. … We were in the Immaculata League. We thought it was going to be a tough league but we only lost two games so that helped.’
“The first couple of (regular season) games if people weren’t playing defense the coach would just take them out — me included. The coaches said you need to play defense because you are not going to win offensively. You have to stop them from scoring and that is what we are doing.’’
Randolph’s Connor McMahon (42) pokes the ball away from Morristown’s Dom Pisciotto (10) during Randolph’s victory.
Preaching defense really hit home when the Rams posted one of the biggest upsets of the season so far by defeating Morris Knolls by 15 points in the Golden Eagles’ gym.
“Knolls was the best game we’ve played all year,’’ Kilduff said. “We were sharp offensively, we were sharp defensively. We forced them out of the zone and they couldn’t stay with us man-to-man.’’
The victory opened the eyes of the Rams players and got them to believe that good things could await them if they kept working at what they started.
“We realized if we wanted to win counties, this is the game (to prove it),’’ Aiken said of the Knolls win. “We were either going to win this game or it was just going to be an okay season. … It gave us a good push
A lot has always been expected of Aiken, another in a long line of athletes that have excelled in the Morristown-Randolph area. On offense, Aiken can heat up quickly. He scored 15 of his team’s 23 second-quarter points to help the Rams build an 18-point edge at the half. He is capable of picking apart a defense. Morristown didn’t want to let him drive to the hoop, so Aiken focused most of his game on the perimeter and hit open shots during the run.
“I guess they had to pick their poison,’’ Aiken said. “If they came up, I was going to go by them. If they stayed, I was going to hit the three.’’
Julian Aiken, left, encourages a teammate as Ryan Harris looks on. Aiken, who leads Morris County in scoring, had 29 on Tuesday.
Aiken has worked hard to develop an all-around game on offense and for a player that averages 27 points per game average he is surprisingly efficient. He doesn’t take bad shots. He finishes well on drives and hits his free throws after he is fouled. He doesn’t hesitate in passing the ball when he sees a teammate with a better shot.
“I’ve seen some box-and-one (zone defenses), but the days we did see them my teammates stepped up,’ Aiken said. “Teams are forced not to play it.’’
Randolph guard Ryan Harris has become a good offensive option, too. Connor McMahon and sophomore Patrick Archer have been consistently improving at rebounding and defending the interior. Other players will be expected to step up now that starter Garret Gaudioso will probably miss the rest of the season with a hand injury.
A 15-0 Randolph run to start the third quarter finished off Tuesday’s contest. It gave the Rams a lead of more than 30 points and sent them looking forward to further games on the schedule including an MCT contest against Whippany Park on Saturday.
Scores of note:
Morristown-Beard 58, Mountain Lakes 42 – The Crimson remain unbeaten. Harrison Rosemond had 20 points, 10 rebounds and four steals. Chris Jenkins had 10 points and Tyler Terens added 10 points and eight rebounds. Ethan Lubowitz paced the Lakers with 19 points and 13 rebounds.
Morris Knolls 68, Roxbury 60, 2OT – These two teams play each other on Saturday in opening round Morris County Tournament play.
Mount Olive 81, Montville 77 — The Marauders used a 32-15 second-quarter effort to take a 40-35 halftime lead.
Mendham 66, West Morris 35 – The Minutemen cemented their win by outscoring their sister school 30-12 in the second half.
Chatham 44, Pequannock 20; Pope John 69, Jefferson 48; Morris Hills 58, High Point 34; Hanover Park 74, Dover 36; Butler 38, Kinnelon 37.