By Mark Kitchin
CHATHAM – It’s been a different type of season for Mendham, a basketball team with more than a little pride. The Minutemen have emerged from hard work and some hard luck as a gritty, grinding team.
Their presence nowadays is like a pebble in an opponent’s sneaker or an ominous cloud on the lookout for a parade. Mendham is a team no one wants to play right now. The Minutemen certainly dampened one celebration on Tuesday.
Bobby Stolz scored 17 points and Kal Roemer chipped in with 14 to lift Mendham to a 51-49 upset victory over Chatham on Tuesday.
The Minutemen took a 38-28 lead with seven minutes left in the game and held on by hitting timely layups and knocking down 5 of 6 free throws in the final minute.
Senior guard Sam Carson scored 14 points and Scott Baker had 12 for the Cougars on Senior Day.
Mendham’s Kal Roemer has his eyes on the hoop but Chatham’s Garrett McAuliffe is not about to let him pass. (Story by Mark Kitchin)
The loss kept Chatham from its 20th win of the season and possibly earning a Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference – National Division title outright or otherwise. Chatham (19-4) was tied with Morristown for first place in the division going into the final week of regular-season games. The Cougars received some help from Delbarton when it edged Morristown 53-52 on Tuesday to keep the two teams tied. Chatham finishes its regular season on Thursday at Roxbury. Morristown will travel to play Mendham.
Mendham (13-9) makes it a grind type of a game by instilling its style of tight, physical play, usually for a full 32 minutes. It’s not very pretty but as the season has gone on, the Minutemen have been perfecting what they can do.
“The main thing that we can do is be spoilers for Chatham or Morristown,’’ Mendham Coach Kevin Schmid said. “We just talk a lot in practice about being strong with the basketball and running our stuff. We’ve been getting confidence with some wins, but every game is a grind for us.’’
When Mendham is able to stay in games, they have become close ones. They have become more comfortable in playing possession by possession, scrapping for rebounds, hitting their free throws and finding every advantage they can to succeed. They have also adjusted after losing important players T.K. Hayes and Alex Jacobs due to injuries.
“It starts from the offense,’’ Stolz said. “We’ve been slowing it down and making sure we get good shots. We’re trying not to look so much for threes and long twos. We’re looking more toward drives and making sure we get an open shot before we take it.’’
Mendham has embraced mindset of never settling and always attacking. The end result often has an emotional effect on the Minutemen’s opponents.
“I see teams get frustrated, especially after they see us grinding for two minutes and then we get an open layup,’’ Stolz said. “They want to come down and score right away and they might chuck up a bad shot. Sometimes you can just see the anxiousness in them.’’
Mendham has also gotten some benefit from the aggressive play of Roemer and Will Gibbs. They are active, physical forwards who give Mendham possessions on the defensive end and often extend them on offense with their ability to grab the ball off the glass.
“It’s nothing to do with basketball,’’ Roemer said. “That’s just wanting to win.’’
Bobby Stolz scored all 17 of his points in the second half for Mendham. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
Overall, Mendham did a great job on Chatham scorers, including their most consistent shooter Joe Timmes. Timmes was held to a pair of 3-point scores in the second quarter.
“We wanted to get up on him (even) two feet outside the 3-point line because he can take any shot,’’ Roemer said. “We really wanted to make him put it on the floor. We did a great job of doing that.’’
Twice in the fourth quarter the Chatham defense forced turnovers by stopping Mendham from inbounding the ball and forcing a pair of 5-second counts but the Minutemen still prevailed.
“They were switching,’’ said Stolz, who takes care of the inbounds. “Sometimes they mixed up on the (defenses). I should have called a couple of timeouts. It happens but we still won the game and that’s what matters.’’
Mendham didn’t panic as its 10-point fourth-quarter lead was whittled away. Three times within the final 36 seconds the Cougars cut the Mendham lead to three points with dramatic baskets by Drew Ballard, who was angered but then played inspired after he was hit by an elbow a few minutes earlier, Baker and Carson, but the Minutemen managed to stay ahead.
Mendham had a 7-6 edge at the end of the first quarter. A buzzer beating layup by Baker off a Daniel McGinley steal made it an 18-17 Chatham lead at the half.
The first half was at Mendham’s tempo and Schmid was satisfied with the execution.
“We we’re taking good quality shots,’’ Schmid said. “We’re just doing a good job at being strong with the ball and not turning it over, not giving them what we call “live” turnovers that are directed to a basket.’’
There was one lead change and two ties during a close third quarter. However, a 3-point play by Mendham’s Mike D’Elia with 1.5 seconds left gave Mendham a 31-28 advantage going into the final period.
Stolz, who picked up two early fouls, gave Mendham a burst of energy by scoring the first seven points of the fourth quarter including a 3-pointer and a layup off a D’Elia feed to give Mendham a 38-28 lead with seven minutes left.
“Sitting on the bench in the first half I just really wanted to get out there,’’ Stolz said. “I felt good going into the half and our coaches got me going. They told me ‘you better stay in this game’.’’
It’s what the Minutemen expect of him.
“That’s his game,’’ Schmid said. “He got to the rim. He’s pretty athletic and he does a great job of finishing.’’
The Cougars tried to rally. One of Chatham’s most active players was Carson. He has been taking on more ballhandling duties for the Cougars lately. One of their primary point guards Luke Conrad has been out for weeks with concussion symptoms. Another ballhandler Rob Raiola, who hurt his knee in the Morris County Tournament semifinals on Saturday, dressed but did not play. Carson had 10 of his 14 points in the final period.
However, whenever the Cougars scored, the Minutemen always seemed to have an answer.
Chatham coach Todd Ervin is not too happy with his Cougars at this moment. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
In the final 30 seconds Joey Lamberto and Stolz each knocked down a pair of crucial free throws to turn 3-point edges into a 5-point leads. With 10.3 seconds left and Mendham holding a 50-47 lead, Chatham was forced to foul. Will Gibbs knocked down his second of two free throws to make it a 4-point game. Carson drove for a basket to make it 51-49 but the Cougars were out of time outs and couldn’t stop the clock.
Morris County Results
Delbarton 53, Morristown 52 – The Green Wave edged the Colonials 21-18 to earn the home triumph. Delbarton led 22-16 at the half but Morristown owned the third quarter 18-10 to take a 34-32 edge going into the final period.
Mount Olive 70, High Point 47 – The Marauders earned their 20th victory. They led 50-29 at the half and cruised for the triumph.
Pope John 69, Morris Knolls 56 – The Lions clinched the NJAC-American title with the victory. Bryce Aiken scored 19 to pace Pope John (17-7). Brian O’Neill and Mike Signer each scored 13 points for the Golden Eagles (12-11).
Sparta 60, Montville 33 – Chris Melville’s 22 lifted the Spartans. Jacob Kaplan scored 15 points and Jesse Warech added 10 points for the Mustangs.
Mountain Lakes 71, Kinnelon 31 – The Lakers led 35-17 at the half. Paul Tarnawski scored 21 points and Pierce Langlois had 14 for Mountain Lakes (16-6).
Morris Catholic 80, Butler 40 – Jay Flaherty scored 19 points and Kevin Cannavina and Zach Williams poured in 10 points apiece for the Crusaders.