Mendham edges Knolls in OT; earns share of NJAC-National title

By Mark Kitchin


MENDHAM — The Mendham boys basketball team isn’t much on sharing but if it means earning a piece of a division title the Minutemen don’t mind working overtime to do it. 

Senior guard Drew Jacobs scored 36 points including a pair of free throws with 7.6 seconds left to help Mendham to a 71-68 victory overtime victory over Morris Knolls on Wednesday night. Alex Jacobs added 13 points for the Minutemen and David Yee registered a rare four-point play early in the four-minute extra session. The triumph secured a co-championship with Morris Knolls in the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference – National Division.

Niko Kotoulas scored 23 points, Esaun Mobley chipped in with 18 points and Connor Rich had 10. The Golden Eagles have to bounce back quickly. Morris Knolls faces Mount Olive in Saturday’s Morris County Tournament semifinals.

Morris Knolls’ Niko Kotoulas (24) and Mendham’s Jesse Oringer (24) battle for the ball during Wednesday night’s overtime contest.

The contest was physically and emotionally draining for both teams. Morris Knolls seniors Kotoulas and Mobley played inspired basketball at times in the hope that the Golden Eagles could capture a division title outright on their rivals home court but the Minutemen were just as anxious to snatch a piece of it for themselves.

“We knew kids were going to step up,’’ Drew Jacobs said. “All during the season kids have stepped up. We had trouble rebounding throughout the season Will (Gibbs) came up big. He had a lot of rebounds in regulation.’’

It was especially fierce under the boards. The Minutemen gave away some size to the 6-foot-5 Kotoulas and 6-7 Kevin Miller but Mendham’s Gibbs and Nick Maguire battled for rebounds as if their lives depended upon it

“It was scrappy down there,’’ Gibbs said. “You just fight them as much as you can and play them as hard as you can. We had help. We had everyone crashing the boards. We work on box outs in practice every day. We just stay focused and concentrated on how we could do it as a team.’’

Although he did some damage with second-half scoring, the Minutemen were concerned about Mobley’s break down abilities and drives to the basket. Alex Jacobs seemed to be on him the most although the Minutemen would eventually have to throw in some zone defenses to give him different looks.

“He’s a good athlete,’’ Drew Jacobs said. “He’s been giving us trouble for the last couple of years. We tried to keep in front of him on every possession.’’

Meanwhile Morris Knolls had difficulty handling Drew Jacobs whose 36 points included six 3-point shots which often occurred during clutch moments in the contest. It was the most points scored by a Mendham player since Tore Vicarisi’s virtuoso performance in last year’s sectional final against Plainfield.

Morris Knolls started out strong but the Minutemen rallied to take a 19-13 lead at the end of the first quarter. A Drew Jacobs 3-pointer just before the second quarter buzzer made it 33-26 at the half.

The Golden Eagles bounced back in the third quarter. Mobley and Kotoulas combined for 14 of the team’s 20 points. Mobley and Yee hit back-to-back threes to end the period and knot the game at 46.

It was fierce under the boards on Wednesday. Morris Knolls (24) Niko Kotoulas and Mendham’s Will Gibbs (33) battle for position.

The fourth quarter was as close and as thrilling as any title bout should be as neither team could shake the other off. There were four lead changes and three ties in the final period.

A pair of threes by Jacobs and a Maguire free throw when he was fouled on an attempted putback made it a 57-52 Mendham lead with 2:46 left in regulation.

The Golden Eagles gamely fought their way back. Mobley cut it to three on a layup. Then they exchanged possessions on a wild sequence in which Mobley forced a Mendham turnover on a 5-second call, lost it on a disputed turnover then seconds later Kotoulas forced another jump ball in a scrap with Yee at center court to get it back

Mobley made it a one-point game by slicing through the Mendham defense and getting a layup after rebounding his own off-balance miss to make 57-56 inside of a minute.

The teams exchanged possessions again and Morris Knolls called time with 28 seconds left. With 14.8 seconds left, Connor Rich put up a shot that bounced off the rim. Kotoulas battled for the ball and was fouled. His first free throw attempt bounced out and after a Mendham time out he also rimmed the second one. The frenzied battle for this ball was an amazing four or five-second scramble which no one could grab hold of it until Kevin Miller took possession and was fouled with 8.7 seconds left.

“Towards the end it was like hand-to-hand fighting,’’ Yee said. “We were just scrapping for every rebound.’’

Miller hit his first shot to tie it at 57-all but missed the second one. Drew Jacobs grabbed the rebound and called time with 7.4 seconds. The Minutemen set up a play but Jacobs’ long range three was off the mark forcing overtime.

Morris Knolls started the overtime with a Rich basket but the Minutemen wrestled momentum back when Yee was fouled while knocking down a 3-pointer. His subsequent free throw produced a rare 4-point play to give Mendham the lead and an emotional lift.

“I was open but I wasn’t expecting to be that open,’’ Yee said. “I don’t get many open shots so I have to take it. I was feeling confident and I was lucky enough to get the foul and hit the free throw.’’

Anytime Yee — usually the smallest player on the court but a fierce fighter — does anything, the Minutemen are inspired.

“It was just a great morale booster,’’ Gibbs said. “We love playing with Yee. He’s quick and smart out there and for him to hit that shot lifted everyone up.’’

Mendham’s Drew Jacobs drives for two of his 36 points to help Mendham win a share of the NJAC-National Division title.

The teams continued to battle back and fourth. There were four lead changes and three ties in the four-minute extra period. Every time the Jacobs brothers would knock down a shot, usually Kotoulas or Mobley would respond with a bucket. With 1:10 left, Jacobs knocked down his sixth and last 3-point shot of the game to make it 67 -65, but at the one-minute mark Golden Eagles’ Miller put back a Brian O’Neill miss to tie that game at 67. The eventual game-winning points were scored by Alex Jacobs on a layup off a Yee feed with 40 seconds left. Mobley got one back by hitting one of two free throws to make it a 69-68 Mendham lead.

After a timeout, Morris Knolls fouled Nick Maguire and got the ball back when his free throws bounced off the rim. With 11.3 seconds left, the Golden Eagles turned the ball over on an exchange and Drew Jacobs wound up with it.

“We knew that they were going to try and get it to Mobley and they would try and get it to him off a screen,’’ Drew Jacobs said. “David saw that and he jumped it and they tried to shovel pass it from the sideline. He tipped it away. I got it and sank the foul shots.’’

Jacobs was fouled and he coolly knocked down both free throws with 7.6 seconds left to play to make it a 3-point game. Morris Knolls set up for a final play but the Mendham players defended tightly on the perimeter and the Golden Eagles did not get a tying shot off.

Apart from a title, the win certainly provided Mendham with a lift as teams head toward the state tournament. The Minutemen — which had won 17 Morris County Tournament games in a row over the last four years before being eliminated byMount Olive last Saturday – were crushed with their quarterfinal round defeat. Back to back wins against Delbarton and now Morris Knolls have given them something to build on once again.

“It was a goal this season,’’ Drew Jacobs said of the division title. “We lost the counties but we still have goals in front of us. Our heart is in states now. It’s been tough because a lot of us have never experienced a loss in the county tournament. After the loss we decided that we were going to finish the season hard and we wouldn’t let up.’’

 Games of note

Mount Olive 88, High Point 59 — The Marauders built a 22-9 first-quarter advantage and pulled away from there. Jim Pastena scored 15 points on five 3-pointers. Mount Olive hit 16 threes in all.

Randolph 76, Delbarton 64 – The Rams took charge early with a 22-13 first-quarter effort.

Morristown-Beard 52, Butler 43 – The Crimson (20-1) went unbeaten in the NJAC-Liberty. Brian Bartner led the way with 18 points.

West Morris 63, Morristown 46 – Pat Barron scored 17 points and Sam McClellan had 16 for the Highlanders.

Whippany Park 65, Boonton 28 – The Wildcats are 15-6.

Roxbury 59, Parsippany Hills 48 – Tom Alliegro scored 19 points and Ryan Kelley added 18 for the Gaels.

Pope John 67, Morris Hills 56; Sparta 61,Montville 42; Hanover Park 58, Parsippany 50;








About mcvbb

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

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