By Mark Kitchin
MORRIS TWP. – They are a Crimson-clad puzzle. A running, jumping riddle in sneakers. They are the players on the Morristown-Beard boys basketball team and they have their coach Eddie Franz looking for clues that would provide an answer for why a talented group of athletes are not playing to their potential.
The only positive in the Crimson’s recent play is that they are winning games.
Stephen Sangree scored 14 points and Chris Pooler added 10 points to lift Morristown-Beard to a 50-44 triumph over Madison in boys basketball action on Saturday.
The Crimson repelled a third-quarter Dodgers rally and pulled away with an 18-13 fourth-quarter effort. Gavin Wallace scored 16 points including three 3-pointers for winless Madison (0-6).
Morristown-Beard’s Chris Pooler battles a Madison rival for a rebound on Saturday. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
Morristown-Beard couldn’t shake the struggling Dodgers. The Crimson didn’t take the lead for good until there was five minutes left in the fourth quarter. Mistakes on defense and a 9 of 18 mark on the free throw line kept Madison in the contest.
“We were 2 for 6 in free throws when we went to the double bonus,” Franz said. “They foul us and we make 33 percent from the line. We let them stay in the game.”
“We will take the win but there are definitely a lot of things we need to work on,” senior point guard Ben O’Connell said. “I’ll be the first to admit it was pretty ugly. We definitely need to make free throws, finish at the rim and play better defense overall.”
Morristown-Beard should be a team on the rise. The Crimson have practically everyone back from last year’s 9-17 team. They also had a very productive summer. They were competitive in two leagues and often treated the off-season as an extension of the regular season.
“We were practicing on Monday and Wednesday and playing Tuesday and Thursday,” Franz said. “We worked on what we needed to work on.”
Or so they thought. The Crimson were being sloppy and making some of the same mistakes on Saturday that they did last season. They lacked an attention to detail, especially on the defensive end. Many of the skills they worked on during holiday practices, such as off-ball movement, did not translate in their performance against Madison.
“We practice more than anyone in the county over the break with the snow and everything,” O’Connell said. “We failed to apply the things we did in practice but we were prepared for the game.”
Morristown Beard’s Mark Abouyoun drives to the basket between Madison’s Gavin Wallace (15) and Terry Brennan (32) (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
It is a puzzle. Mark Abouyoun, Matt McFadden, Sangree, Pooler and O’Connell have good skills and are capable of playing good basketball. It is up to them to play together, develop chemistry and do things that winning teams do. Can they learn to become winners on the court?
“None of the seniors (other than O’Connell) were on those really good teams in the past,” Franz said. “None of the seniors have won on any level and some of them have had horrible seasons. So part of me realizes these guys have ever won. They really worked hard to get better but they don’t always know how to win.”
This year’s Crimson also differ from their past successful teams in terms of make up. There is no standout on the Morristown-Beard roster, so there are times when confidence and attitude are lacking on the court.
“The problem is there isn’t a (big dog) in the room,” Franz said. “(Chris) Jenkins knew, (Harrison) Rosemond knew, (Brian) Bartner knew, Al Jones knew. Jyles Tucker knew. When they were motivated to play they could dominate. These guys have a little doubt. The doubt means that they know there’s somebody behind them that is almost as good as they are.”
Despite their problems, the Crimson was good enough to earn the victory on Saturday. Morristown-Beard led 9-4 after the first quarter and had a double-digit advantage midway through the second quarter. However, Madison rallied to cut its deficit to 22-18 at the half.
The Dodgers were at their most competitive late in the third quarter. Back-to-back layups by Darnell St. Germain tied the game at 27-all with 2:40 left. Morristown-Beard took the lead back with a Pooler 3-pointer, but a pair of free throws from Wallace and a rebound and layup by Wallace off a Tim Azzolini steal gave the Dodgers a 31-30 with 1:10 left.
Then Brandon Babb gave the Crimson some energy. He put back a Pooler miss to give Morristown-Beard the lead going into the fourth quarter. Then he opened the final period by knocking down a three to make it 35-31.
“Brandon brings energy,” O’Connell said. “He goes after lose balls and he’s diving on the floor. He gives us a nice spark off the bench.”
Morristown-Beard’s Matt McFadden takes it strong to the hoop. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
Madison made one more run. Kevin Armstrong hit a 3-pointer, then he fed teammate Jaywon Brown for a layup on the next possession to give the Dodgers a 36-35 edge with 5:30 left. Morristown-Beard took the lead for good when Pooler was fouled on a layup and knocked down a free throw to complete the 3-point play to make it 38-36 moments later.
The Crimson outscored their opponents 12-8 the rest of the way to seal the win. Now their schedule gets tougher and they will learn more about themselves in the coming weeks.
“We’ve played teams that are 3-13,” Franz said. “We are 4-1 right now, but what does that mean?”