MCT Semifinal Preview

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

The Morris County Tournament is down to its semifinal round. Third-seeded Morristown faces second-seeded Mount Olive in a 5 p.m. contest followed by 12th-seeded Randolph against top-seeded Chatham. The games will be held at County College of Morris in Randolph. It is advisable to get there early, especially for the Randolph game which will get a lot of hometown support for the Rams. Here’s a brief look.

Morristown vs. Mount Olive

These teams have not met before but there’s plenty of anticipation. It’s been a decade since Morristown has won a county title, but the Colonials don’t seem intimidated at the prospect of winning it all. They had the closest of all the quarterfinal battles, edging sixth-seeded Delbarton 43-39.

Junior point guard Sean Hoehn played well for the Colonials and he will have to pick it up again since Mount Olive likes to employ pressure. That prospect will allow Hoehn and his teammates Ryan Brunnock plenty of opportunities to go to the basket.

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Point guard Sean Hoehn leads the Morristown attack. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Naeem Pierce usually gets the assignment of guarding the opponents more talented wing players. He has to be active on the boards and he will probably help out Colonials bigs Trey Davis and Zach Certner in swamping Mount Olive’s Zach Heeman on the inside. Reserves A. J. Tracey and James Mongey will also need to step up, especially if the game is up-tempo.

And up-tempo is the way Mount Olive likes to play. Point guard Rashaan Spencer loves to drive through the hoop or knock down threes. The Grinnell System employs pressure defenses, often full-court, to push the tempo and disrupt the offenses of opposing teams. The success of the pressure is a little tougher to achieve at CCM because the floor is a touch longer and much wider than most high school courts.

Junior center Zach Heeman poses some size match-up problems for Morristown. The 6-foot-8 center averages nearly 20 points and double-digit rebounds a game. The football lineman is being recruited by several Division I schools including Rutgers. His size and strength are difficult to neutralize.

Other players have been stepping up for the Marauders lately, too. Ryan Traub, at 6-foot-7, rebounds and is also a perimeter threat. Steve Leonardo and Anthony Verrone are relentless on the press and Leonardo also knocks down threes. Bruce Stenson, Chris Grillo and freshman Jason Drury have also stood out for Mount Olive which pounded seventh-seeded Mendham 74-50 in the quarterfinals. Heeman, Spencer and Leonardo gained experience during last year’s tournament, while many others went through the process of preparing for last year’s semifinal and final games. That advantage may make a difference especially early on in the contest.

142a bb chatmo Mount Olive’s Zach Heeman provides plenty of matchup problems. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Randolph vs. Chatham

Randolph wants revenge. Although they have played Chatham twice and split the season series, the Rams would love to avenge what they feel was an injustice in last year’s semifinal when Randolph’s Aaron Harris drove to the basket and collided with Chatham’s Rob Raiola. Harris banked in a shot that would have given Randolph the lead in the late stages of the game. Referees called it a charging foul on Harris while Randolph players and fans believed it was a clear blocking call on Raiola. The call was a game changer in favor of Chatham, which won 52-48 and sent them to the title game and eventually their second MCT crown.

The Rams are no 12th-seed. Their record was the product of a tough early season schedule. Randolph has proven that it is capable of winning the tournament. The Rams have already beaten Chatham and Mount Olive in regular season encounters. They advanced to the semis with a 48-35 victory over Morris Knolls in a scrappy, physical contest. Randolph coaches Joe Mazzarella and Matt Tighe have done a good job of reversing the team’s fortunes after a 4-9 start.

The Rams have a lot of talent. Ryan Harris has been a steady source of offense. Michael Talbert is also a good shooter who is not afraid to push to the hoop and Barry Lynch is a dynamite third option and solid all-around player. Randolph has some size inside. Chris Woodbury has emerged as an aggressive and physical force. Pat Archer is a smart defender and solid rebounder and Chris Moserowitz completes the dynamic trio.

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Senior guard Ryan Harris triggers the Randolph offense. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

At guard Ryan Mahoney is an aggressive defender and an occasional 3-point threat. Track star Thayer Wallace has also made contributions on the court. Aaron Harris is not asked to score as much but his athletic gifts are evident. He can shut down anybody and a matchup with Chatham’s Joe Timmes is anticipated.

The defending-champion Cougars know what to expect against the Rams and have always excelled on the defensive end. It’s on offense where Chatham is a different squad. They have a level of depth and experience that the Cougars have not enjoyed since the not too long ago days of Billy Oliver. It’s allowed them to develop a more up-tempo style which can wear down opponents.

Six-foot-four Timmes is one to watch on the offensive end. He is their most consistent and probably their most versatile player in terms of range and scoring ability. He knocks down threes, takes the ball to the basket strong, finishes shots and in general just gives teams fits with his versatility and perseverance.

Their second most consistent scorer Luke Conrad has been out with concussion symptoms and isn’t expected to play. They will miss him but they have been able to adjust without him. Raiola, Sam Carson and Daniel McGinley can take turns bringing the ball up the floor depending upon the matchups. Drew Ballard can too, although lately he’s been more focused on the defense end. Chatham has a similar rotation up front, too. Brian Oliver, Scott Baker, Dan Winschuh and a lately Garrett McAuliffe do a little bit of everything and most of it well.

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Joe Timmes, left, can score from just about anywhere for Chatham. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Coach Todd Ervin has shown his versatility, too. The frenetic style has never truly been part of the Chatham gameplan or Ervin’s preference. He’s employed it to make the best use of this year’s personnel. Of the four quarterfinal games, the Cougars looked the most impressive with a 71-39 romp of eighth-seeded Mountain Lakes.

Who wins? Both teams have incentive. The Cougars would like nothing more than to win in order to get another chance to repeat as champs. The Rams want revenge and should have a pretty big crowd behind them. They have some depth too and may be a trifle more athletic. If the game becomes as exciting as last year, it’s worth a trip.

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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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