Mendham no match for Plainfield in sectional final

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

PLAINFIELD — There’s no shame in losing to a great team. The Plainfield Cardinals certainly have the signs of greatness about them.

Plainfield dominated in all phases of the game and defeated Mendham 74-36 to earn the North Jersey Section 2, Group III title for the fourth consecutive year. Jahmal Lane scored 31 points to lift the second-seeded team to victory in a rematch of last year’s title opponents. Sekou Harris added 17 points including his 1,000th varsity point with a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter. 

Drew Jacobs and Nick Maguire scored nine points apiece for Mendham. The Minutemen finished a quality tournament run which included victories against Morristown and Irvington at home and top-seeded Rahway on the road. Plainfield took control early with a 17-6 first-quarter effort and never looked back. The Mendham offense worked and worked but rarely was able to get off an uncontested shot. Defensively the Minutemen threw in 1-3-1 and 2-3 zone defenses but the Cardinals found ways to shoot over it or on misses get to the boards for rebounds and putbacks to get their points.

Mendham’s Drew Jacobs is swamped by Plainfield opponents in the first half of Monday’s state sectional final.

“They are terrific,’’ Mendham coach Jim Baglin said of Plainfield. “I’m not going to overstate things that we didn’t do well. They are terrific and they deserve all the credit. That is a top 5 team. That’s what it looks like up close.

“I thought that we were overmatched but you have to give them credit. They are terrific. They are well coached. They are nice kids. They play hard. That’s the way it goes.’’

Plainfield standout Justin Sears (23) looks to move the ball against Mendham’s Will Gibbs (33) in sectional final action.

Drew Jacobs remembered that this year’s Cardinals were pretty much the same team that the Minutemen took to double overtime in last year’s state sectional final but players and teams can improve tremendously over the course of a year.

“That team is the best team I’ve ever played in my life,’’ Jacobs said. “We couldn’t do anything to stop them. They are so athletic, they were attacking the rim. They hit all their shots. There’s nothing you could do about that.

“Their crowd was amped up and they wanted to stick it to us early. We tried to run our offense and they took us out of it. They have a tough shot blocker. We weren’t hitting our shots and that sometimes happens.’’

Mendham’s Alex Jacobs knocks down a rare open shot in the first quarter of Monday’s state sectional final.

The Mendham offense is pretty precise in its ability to run players off screens for backdoor layups or open 3-point shots but Plainfield’s athleticism cut off the gaps for the Minutemen to slip passes through. The presence of 6-foot-8 standout Justin Sears made the Minutemen change even the easiest of shot attempts in the paint. The speed and quick hands of Jahmal Lane or Sekou Harris assured that the Cardinals would always have a defensive presence on the perimeter.

“They are so long and so athletic that it was tough for us to run our backdoors,’’ Jacobs said. “They were all up in our grill. There was really nothing much we could do about that. We had some opportunities, we just couldn’t put them in.’’

Plainfield led 32-12 at the half and pretty much had the game in control by midway through the third quarter. Despite such a large deficit, the Minutemen never showed signs of frustration or surrender. When they lost to Mount Olive in the quarterfinals of the Morris County Tournament a few weeks ago they redoubled their efforts and went on a seven-game winning streak to reach the state sectional final.

“Our motto after we lost to Mount Olive was that we were going to keep fighting,’’ Jacobs said. “High school basketball means a lot to all of us but we know were not going to be in the NBA. We have to use this time to be taught life lessons and learn a lot about ourselves.

“We learned that despite the fact we couldn’t get our fifth straight Morris County championship, that we had more season left in us. We weren’t going to give up. We aren’t quitters in there (pointing to the locker room). We just kept fighting.’’

Mendham’s Nick Maguire (44) tries to get a shot up over Plainfield’s Justin Sears (23) during first half action on Monday.

Baglin wasn’t sure if this was Mendham’s most overachieving team among those he has coached but this year’s Minutemen had some distinct qualities that made them unique and memorable.

“This team had a lot of things going for it that really made it special,’’ Baglin said. “They had unbelievable team morale — unbelievable camaraderie. I can’t recall a case all year where there was an ounce of bad body language. We had two or three players that I’m not really sure would have made a lot of teams but just through hard work, dedication and a sense of team and purpose they evolved into good players. Plus, they carried on our tradition. They unified our community. The last two weeks have been just great.  

“I couldn’t be prouder of them. I can’t think of a negative thing to say.’’

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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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