By Mark Kitchin
RANDOLPH – It sounds logical enough. When a Chatham player is tired, another one goes into the game to take his place.
It isn’t quite that easy but the Cougars’ machine has numerous interchangeable parts that make it run smoothly no matter who steps on the court. Chatham displayed its simple philosophy yet again when it defeated Mountain Lakes 71-39 in the quarterfinal round of the Morris County Tournament last Sunday.
The Cougars hope to continue on their quest of an MCT title repeat on Saturday when they face Randolph in the nightcap of the semifinal round to be played at County College of Morris.
Joe Timmes scored 20 points and Scott Baker scored 14 in the quarterfinal contest in which just about anybody with a Cougars uniform saw some action. This year in most games Chatham likes to go 9 or 10 players deep. Deciding who plays more than others has been a bit more of a challenge for Chatham coach Todd Ervin this year than in past seasons although game situations dictate some decisions.
Chatham’s Daniel McGinley is one of many players making contributions to the Cougars total team success. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
“It depends upon who is going well,’’ Ervin said. “Sometimes you look out and it looks like they are exhausted. It’s not one set thing. Sometimes it’s just a spur of the moment.
“I’ve gotten a little bit better (at choosing). I would sub before maybe at a time on the clock. Now it’s more by feel or who looks tired and needs to come out. Maybe get some other fresh legs in there.’’
The versatility of the team allows Ervin such a luxury. Luke Conrad, the team’s point guard, has missed the last couple weeks to injury. Against Mountain Lakes Rob Raiola, Sam Carson, Daniel McGinley and Joe Timmes, a 6-4 forward, each took turns at handling the ball. It doesn’t seem to matter who initiates the offense. They all can.
“We will mix it around,’’ Ervin said. “It doesn’t have to be one particular guy. Anyone can run what we are going to do. It doesn’t have to be one particular person.’’
Chatham is a much different team than last year in some respects. On last year’s championship squad Jonathan Berntsen and Colin (Brown) were very strong personalities and leaders. It’s more of a – the more the merrier — group movement this year.
Joe Timmes scored 20 points to help Chatham defeat Mountain Lakes in Sunday’s MCT quarterfinals. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
“Last year we weren’t press-oriented and big scoring run-and-gun,’’ Chatham forward Scott Baker said. “We got most of our points from Jonathan and Joe and Colin. This year it’s more mixed. We have more balanced scoring this year.’’
Baker was a sophomore last year and was pressed into service because of injuries. The experience he and others gained last season have given the Cougars more depth and the opportunity to play a more fast-paced game using more players this year.
“Last year we were more defense oriented,’’ Baker said. “This year we are more pressure. We’re scoring and were averaging much more as a team this year.
“It works for our team because we are a deep team. It helps us against some opponents, to try and wear them down near the end of the game.’’
The style allows more athletes to contribute to the team. Chatham is able to distribute the responsibility among the players and lessen the pressure. A good example are athletes like guard Daniel McGinley and forward Garrett McAuliffe, seniors who rarely start but make significant contributions.
“(McGinley) got hurt last year but he played a lot near the end and he played a lot for us this year,’’ Ervin said. “He’s a contributor. He doesn’t do anything great but he does everything well for us. “
McAuliffe rotates up front with Daniel Winschuh and Brian Oliver. The 6-foot-4 athlete gives his team rebounds, interior defense and a few points a game including an occasional 3-point shot.
“Garrett is a big presence inside but he’s got the handle so he can drive by you,’’ Chatham guard Drew Ballard said. “He presents a match-up issue for us.’’
Chatham’s Drew Ballard puts up a shot in the first half against Mountain Lakes on Sunday. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
One other difference between last year’s title run and this year is that the Cougars are the top seed and defending champions. The players are well aware that their opponents would be more than happy to knock them out.
“We just know coming in that we are going to get everyone’s best game,’’ Ballard said. “They are not going to lay anything down. They are always going to want to beat the best seed. It fuels their motivation so we want to be ready for every game.’’
The quarterfinal contest favored Chatham in terms of match-ups. The Cougars built an 18-12 first-quarter edge into a 33-20 halftime mark.
“We just tried to set the pace for the game,’’ Ballard said. “We knew they really didn’t have a deep bench. We tried to pressure them early and obviously force turnovers. Because of our rotation, we know who would be able to get out and run a lot.’’
Chatham’s Rob Raiola, left, and Scott Baker put the squeeze on a Mountain Lakes player during Sunday’s game. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
The Cougars started the third quarter with an 11-5 run and were up by more than 20 by the time the fourth quarter rolled around. They know their opponents will be much tougher in the next round. Chatham and Randolph have already split their season series. Saturday’s game will be a decider.
“It’s always a good feeling to get the No. 1 seed,’’ Ballard said. “We knew we were going to get everyone’s best shot. Getting back to CCM means a lot to us. Especially to the guys that played last year. We played Randolph in the semifinals last year. We know what to expect from them.’’