Crazy days for Morris Knolls

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

Basketball teams often experience roller coaster type stretches during the season, but no team has seen lower lows and higher highs than the Morris Knolls Golden Eagle this past weeks. In a three-day stretch Morris Knolls received one of the program’s most gut wrenching defeats to Mount Olive, followed up a few days later by one of its greatest Morris County Tournament victories in an overtime triumph against Hanover Park.

“I’m very proud of them,’’ Morris Knolls coach Ken Ferrare said. “It’s a testament to their character. I think we learned something from the loss.’’

On their home court against Mount Olive, Morris Knolls suffered a 69-65 loss on January 30, in a contest that the Golden Eagles led 33-9 at the end of the first quarter.

It’s understood that the Marauders are a type of team that can come back from such deficits because of the style they play, but any time a team loses after it surrenders such a big lead, it’s difficult to overcome. Such bitter losses often become the turning point of a season and not often a positive one.

It is a testament to the resiliency of any team that not only bounces back from that type of loss but in just the span of few days recovers to win a dramatic upset overtime game like it did against Hanover Park on Saturday’s 69-66 win in Morris County Tournament play.

“We knew that we couldn’t let something like (Mount Olive) affect our momentum going into the next game,’’ Golden Eagles’ Mike Signer said. “We had to clear our heads, gain our composure and come into this strong.’’

The Golden Eagles came in as the underdog 13th-seed but established early on that they could battle the fourth-seeded Hornets. Morris Knolls led 10-8 after the first quarter and 35-25 at the half. However, Hanover Park’s shooting ability became a serious cause for concern. The Hornets knocked down 5 of 7 shots from 3-point range in the second half, including a 3-pointer by Matt Williams to cut the Morris Knolls lead to 47-42 going into the fourth quarter.

“Hanover Park was really just lights out in the fourth quarter,’’ Ferrare said. “Give them a lot of credit. That was a hard game. … No. 13 (Matt Geisser), 22 (Williams) hit some shots. That one kid (Jaquill Scott) came in and banged one in right away. They can shoot the ball that’s for sure.’’

Williams was a concern. The 6-foot-3 athlete has the ability to score in a variety of ways.

“He was a really good player,’’ Signer said. “His best move was to drive right and spin back left. I knew I had to stop that. He got me twice on it but other than that I played him pretty well.’’

Morris Knolls had several strong performances to pull it through. Jimenez, with 13 points, is a tireless worker and plays big despite his 6-foot-1 size.

“He has some nice little moves that he is used to,” Ferrare said. “He can get it done in the post. We do a lot of things to get it to him there.’’

135 bb mkhp

Hugo Jimenez played a big role in Morris Knolls’ victory over Hanover Park on Saturday. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

After a 3-pointer from the top of the key from Geisser gave Hanover Park a 62-61 lead, Jimenez sent the game into overtime. He was fouled while scrambling for a shot in the paint. He hit a free throw to tie the game at 62-all with 1:21 left. Both teams had opportunities in the remaining time but neither scored for the rest of regulation.

Jimenez would also make the last field goal of the game. He connected with 1:27 left to give Morris Knolls a 67-64 advantage.

“Hugo came up really big with that lefty hook in the middle of the paint,’’ Signer said. “He gave us two points when were only up one — that was a really big shot for us.’’

Hanover Park guard Brendan Rudolph would make it a one-point game again by knocking down a pair of free throw just eight second later to make it 67-66. Rudolph then fouled Golden Eagles point guard Brian O’Neill on his shot attempt. However, O’Neill missed both of his free throw opportunities that were taken just inside a minute. Hanover Park would eventually get the ball and call time out with 13 seconds remaining to set up the deciding play.

When Hanover Park’s junior guard Nick Burbella drove to the basket, Signer was waiting for him.

“He blocked that shot at the end,’’ Ferrare said. “In a lot of our close games, if we win Sig gets one or two blocks at the last minute every time.’’

A late switch helped the 6-foot-4 athlete raise his arms and make a play. Burbella is a pass first guard but has made winning plays late in games before and is not afraid to drive the lane and put up short jumpers if his path is blocked by taller players. Signer was ready for him.

“Brian (O’Neill) and I switched at the last second,’’ Signer said. “I was waiting for him to pull up and he kept going. He tried to shoot it with his right hand and I just blocked it.’’

Signer recovered the ball and was fouled. He put both of his free throws up softly and with little difficulty to make it a 3-point game with two seconds left.

To Hanover Park’s credit, their bid to tie had a chance. Billy Bermingham got an open shot from the right elbow just outside the arc, but the ball bounced off the front rim.

“We came up big with our man to man defense,’’ Signer said. “We played well down the stretch.’’

“In overtime the difference was defense,’’ Ferrare said. “We stepped up our defense. We grabbed loose balls and we got deflections.’’

The Golden Eagles recognize that the same formula will also have to apply if they want to get past Mendham and Morris Hills this week as well as Randolph in the MCT quarterfinals next Saturday.

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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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