By Mark Kitchin
EAST HANOVER TWP. – Even though most of the members of the Hanover Park boys basketball team knew they would be returning next season, the thought gave them no solace as they met in their team room for the last time this year. After a long meeting they left quietly, some holding back tears and others arm in arm with teammates. It is the way most teams in the state tournament finish out their year – with a loss.
Nour Aly scored 23 points and Tommy Caprio chipped in with 11 to keep 15th-seeded West Essex’s miraculous state tournament run alive with a 58-44 victory over Hanover Park on Thursday in a North 2, Group II quarterfinal round contest.
Matt Williams scored 20 points and Jimmy Sivolella chipped in with 10 for seventh-seeded Hanover Park
West Essex, which upset second-seeded Madison on Tuesday, led 22-16 at halftime and maintained its advantage most of the second half in a physical and somewhat sloppy contest. Hanover Park struggled with its shooting and often had difficulty attacking the Knights 2-3 zone defense that suffocated the Hornets in the paint at times and distracted their perimeter shooters on other occasions.
Hanover Park’s Matt Williams (23 and West Essex’s Wyatt Kalb (34) battle for a rebounding during Thursday’s state tournament game.
Hanover Park coach Todd Hartman was disappointed in the loss but not the season. He felt many of his young players have accomplished a lot and are on track for good things next year.
“I’m so proud of them being such a young team and all this stuff being new to them,’’ Hartman said. “I told them that I never had more fun blowing the whistle than I’ve had with this group. A lot of the things that we went through, for them to go this far and give themselves a chance and go out fighting like this I’m just real proud of them.
“If somebody would have told me at the beginning of the year that this team would have 14 wins and we’d get to the states I would have signed up for it.
“Once we got here it was heartbreaking because the bracket fell in our favor and maybe the basketball gods were smiling on us a little bit. We picked a bad night to not hit shots and not hit free throws. Some of that was attributed to these kids being in that spot for the first time. I’m so proud of them. I think that they are way ahead of schedule in terms of their development.’’
Hanover Park’s Brendan Rudolph (21) looks to dish the ball as West Essex’s Nour Aly steps in the lane during first half of state tournament play.
It was a slow moving, low scoring contest in the first half with plenty of fouls and very few uncontested shots from either squad.
West Essex led 14-8 at the end of the first quarter and 22-16 at the half. Twelve of the Knights 22 first-half points came from Aly, a tall player who had the knack for getting open on drives to the basket.
“When they run their offense all their big guys are ball screen and pop,’’ Hartman said. “He’s the only one that is ball screen and roll. We knew that about him an early on we did a decent job but later on we didn’t handle it well. We over rotated a couple of times. Sometimes we jumped the screen but to their credit, they kept going back to it.’’
On offense, Hanover Park struggled from the perimeter so they often attacked West Essex’s 2-3 zone defense by feeding Matt Williams on the foul line. There were times the Hornets standout could cut to the basket for a good shot but other times he was swamped
“He was presenting himself,’’ Hartman said. “When he got the ball he did some good things with it. He might have been trying to do too much but I can’t fault him for that. We definitely were getting our shots. (West Essex) did a great job. They hustled to Jimmy, they hustled to all our shooters.’’
Sivolella, the team’s standout perimeter player, was scoreless in the first half. He hit a pair of threes in the second half but overall, the outside shots just weren’t falling for Hanover Park.
The Hornets coach gave his team a shot of emotion midway through the third quarter to try and get something going. Trailing 29-17 with four minutes left in the period, Hartman called timeout and chided the athletes for playing like cowards. They needed to step up.
“I saw that glazed over look,’’ Hartman said. “We’re used to being the puncher. Tonight were taking punches.’’
The Hornets immediately perked up and went on a 9-2 run. A steal and a layup from Williams created a 3-point play. Sivolella also connected on a couple of layups. When Williams scored a layup on a Brendan Rudolph feed, the West Essex lead was cut to 31-26 with two minutes left in the quarter.
The momentum didn’t last. When Aly was fouled on a 3-point shot attempt and knocked down all his free throws, the Knights got a breather. Despite a Sivolella 3-pointer to end the period, WestEssexbuilt its lead back to 39-29 to start the fourth quarter.
Hanover Park had one more good run in them midway through the final period. A Matt Geiser layup and a pair of Williams free throws made it a 46-41 game with 2:18 remaining.West Essex coach Bill Humes called a time out and settled the Knights. West Essex finished the game with a 12-3 run and a ticket to the semifinals
Hanover Park’s Max Reynolds gets off a shot before West Essex’s Johnny Yuron can contest it in the first half of the state tournament game.
Hartman thanked his players afterwards but also made it known that everyone wearing a Hornets uniform next year should keep the sad and disappointing feelings of the state tournament loss in the back of their minds.
“I want this to burn in their bellies until the Monday after Thanksgiving,’’ Hartman said. “We missed an opportunity and they know that.’’
State Tournament results
North I, Group II
Mountain Lakes 51, RiverDell 48 – The Lakers will face the winner of Englewood-Lodi in the next round. Mountain Lakes took a 26-19 halftime lead and held on for the triumph.
North 1, Group IV
Paterson East Side 70, Randolph 41 – Top-seeded Paterson prevailed against the eighth-seeded Rams.
Hackensack 64, Morris Knolls 63 – The Golden Eagles led 30-27 at the half.Hackensackrallied with a 22-17 third-quarter effort.
Morristown-Beard 60, Newark Academy 50 – The Crimson put the game away with a strong second half. Brian Bartner scored 19 points, Harrison Rosemond had 15 points and nine rebounds and Tyler Terens and Chris Jenkins scored 12 points apiece. Morristown-Beard hosts Hudson Catholic on Saturday.