West Morris tops Mountain Lakes

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

WASHINGTON TWP. (MORRIS) — There’s nothing worse than a lengthy losing streak.

When a string of defeats crop up, teams will do anything they can to get back on track. The West Morris boys know first hand how debilitating it can be, so it was crucial for the Wolfpack to post a win on Monday.

Junior guard Conor Barron scored 13 points and senior center Sam McClellan added 12 to lift West Morris to a 62-42 victory over Mountain Lakes in boys basketball action on Monday.

Sean McElwaine added 10 for the Wolfpack which improved to 5-4 and broke a three-game losing streak. Luke St. Lifer scored 12 points on four 3-pointers for the Lakers (6-2).

Mountain Lakes had a brief lead at 32-31 with six minutes left in the third quarter, but West Morris roared back with an 11-2 run over the next five minutes fueled by the scoring of four different players. The Wolfpack led by eight points going into the fourth quarter and pulled away with a 17-5 run to end the period.

7 bb wmmlWest Morris’ Sean McElwaine drives to the basket in first quarter action on Monday. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

The Wolfpack, which started the season at 4-1, was pleased to get back to their winning ways. Last year they ended the season losing nine of their last 10. There was no comfort in knowing that their recent stretch of defeats came against some of the better area teams. West Morris battled Mendham, Morristown and Mount Olive in succession. The toughest loss came from the Marauders. It was a 35-point drubbing that included Rashaan Spencer’s 1,000-point milestone. The West Morris players had to take what they could from the experience and move on.

“They are the top teams in the county,” Conor Baron said. “It’s given us more of a sense of toughness. They were three losses but we learned from those losses,”

This has been a season of transition for West Morris. Former assistant Mark Schartner took over from Wayne Shapiro who was varsity coach for a decade and involved with West Morris basketball for the better part of 30 years. The decision of what to change and how much is always a tricky situation for a new coach. Schartner’s adjustments are more visible on the offense.

“We tried to change some things, but there were some principles that we wanted to keep as part of the West Morris tradition,” Schartner said. “We run more of a patterned offense. That was the big thing I wanted to do with the group. We were getting lost offensively and relying on one scorer too much. I wanted to get the ball moving and spread out the scoring.”

Of course much of the improvement, has developed naturally. McClellan, their six-foot-six center, has become physically stronger and more comfortable in his role. He’s been averaging about 15 points and 12 rebounds a contest.

9 bb wmmlWest Morris Conor Barron looks for an opening but Mountain Lakes’ Christian Cuccinello is ready to cut him off. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“He’s committed himself to being a leader on this team,” Schartner said. “He committed himself to the weight room. Over the summer we had team workouts, which was a big focus of mine. We were getting pushed around in the conference by stronger teams. He really dedicated himself. He’s become more of an inside presence. He’s been better finishing in the paint than he has been in the past.”

Mountain Lakes plays in a different division of the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference but it was part of last year’s nightmare stretch of losses. In last season’s defeat, the Lakers rallied from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter to keep the Wolfpack in a tailspin.

“We wanted to beat these guys,” McClellan said. “Last year we were up 14 in the fourth quarter and they came back and beat us. That’s when the season got away from us. We needed to come out here and beat them on our home floor and get some momentum going.”

Although they are a different team, West Morris was well aware that Mountain Lakes could still knock down shots from the perimeter.

“We knew that they had some good shooters so we wanted to close out hard,” Barron said.

24 bb wmmlFormer assistant Mark Schartner is the new varsity head coach for the Wolfpack. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Midway through the third quarter the Lakers looked to be on a roll when St. Lifer and Christian Cuccinello combined to knock down three consecutive 3-point shots. When St. Lifer sank his second of the period and gave Mountain Lakes a 32-31 lead at the 6:49 mark there might have been some cause for concern for West Morris. However, the Wolfpack posted a rally of their own. McClellan triggered it off a putback and a Baron steal set up a McElwaine layup to give them a three-point edge.

West Morris than scored eight of the next nine points, four of them on Barron layups to build the lead back up to 10 at 43-33 with 1:22 remaining. The Wolfpack finished the period at 45-37 and took over from there.

“We knew they were good shooters and we knew they were going to knock down shots,” McClellan said. “Coming into this game we wanted to be mentally tough. When teams got hot, we tended to fold last year. This year we had to bounce back and we did it. We got a couple of layups, a couple of threes and just kept going.”

West Morris’ road doesn’t get any easier. The Wolfpack face Chatham next, but at least they can go into that game with the type of spirit and attitude that coming off a victory can bring.

“I think this team has a short memory,” Schartner said. “They have confidence in each other and in what we are trying to do here.”

Local results

Jefferson 63, Sparta 47

The Falcons improve to 7-0 on the season. Jefferson took control in the first quarter with a 17-4 run and built a 33-15 halftime advantage. Tyler Jones and Chris Telman scored 17 points apiece for the Falcons. Sparta dropped to 6-3.

Chatham 65, Hackettstown 44

Luke Conrad scored 21 points to pace the Cougars. Chatham rallied in the fourth quarter and outscored Hackettstown 29-5 to put the game away. Graham Delaney scored 18 points and Colin McKenna contributed 12 for the Cougars (7-2).

Montville 60, Parsippany Hills 47

Mustangs guard Jacob Kaplan scored 19 points and dished four assists. Jesse Warech added 12 points and Erik Werheim had 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. Amni Nagenderan scored 13 points to pace the Vikings.

Elmwood Park 79, Boonton 69

Sammy Asani had 22 points and Chris D’Avonzo added 17 for the Bombers.

Kinnelon 57, Bergen Tech 52 

Zachary Moen scored 14 points and Chris Hausler added nine for the Colts. Kinnelon outscored Bergen Tech 16-11 in the fourth quarter to earn the triump. The Colts are 4-4.

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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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