Unbeaten Jefferson still fighting for respect

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketall

RANDOLPH — Late in the basketball season, unbeaten teams shouldn’t have much to prove. Jefferson may be an exception to the rule. The Falcons are a 19-0 team with a chip on their shoulder. They played like it on Sunday.

Senior guard Chris Telman scored 14 points including a pair of clutch free throws and a layup in the final seconds to help Jefferson defeat Chatham 40-32 in the quarterfinal round of the Morris County Tournament.

Senior guard Bryan Langan added 15 points for Jefferson which advanced to the semifinal round of the tournament for the first time since 1975. Sophomore forward Colin McKenna scored 13 points for the seventh-seeded Cougars which fall to 12-7.

Jefferson plays in the much maligned NJAC-Freedom that has very few Morris County teams on its schedule. The Falcons have won most of their games by double digits and have rarely been tested late in games. Not only did Jefferson pass its test on Sunday but it did it without standout Tyler Jones who missed the game with the flu. Like their mascot, the Falcons saw their confidence soar when they could have easily been clipped with their first loss of the year.

“Everyone says were playing an easy conference and the teams aren’t that tough,” Telman said. “That’s why we win so much. So we came in here and knocked down a team that was in a better conference so it was good to do that.”

60 bb mct quarters

Jefferson’s Chris Telman was a crunch-time player during Sunday’s MCT quarterfinal. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

The Falcons have had little crunch time experience, but you wouldn’t have known it from watching Telman. It was a 34-32 game when Telman was fouled on a drive inside a minute. The senior guard knocked down a pair of free throws with 39.7 seconds left to make it a four-point game.

“I just hit them,” Telman said. “I had confidence. It was all just confidence.”

Chatham pushed the ball on offense but a pass to the baseline was stolen by the Falcons’ J. R. Reese. He fired the ball down court and found his teammate Telman for a layup and a six-point advantage. Vin Ginefra knocked down a pair of free throws in the final seconds to account for the final score.

“He’s having a great year for us,” Jefferson coach Joe DiGennaro said of Telman. “When people were talking about Jefferson this year they mentioned Reese, Langan and Jones. He came off the bench for us last year. He’s waited patiently and he’s having a great senior year for us.”

The 5-foot-11 guard has developed into a steady scorer and a pesky defender. He has come up big a number of times for the Falcons this year.

“Chris is a one man show,” Langan said. “He always has his offensive game up, He’s just hard to guard. You never know what he’s going to bring.”

Getting the victory without Jones on the floor meant a lot to the rest of the team. The 6-foot-4 athlete is a scorer with good range but also has long arms which allows him to get blocks and steals in the Falcons active zone defense. Jefferson opted to go big, bringing in center Joe Rossi from off the bench and moving the talented Reese to a wing position.

“We went big because we knew how physical Chatham was going to be,” DiGennaro said. “J. R. is not really comfortable out there but he is such a good athlete and makes good decisions. We thought he could handle that. When you have seniors you can do things like this.”

A 16-6 second quarter effort gave Jefferson a 27-19 advantage at the half. Langan had 12 of his points in the first half. In the third quarter it looked like the Falcons game plan was starting to fall apart. They missed all nine shots that they took and only registered a pair of Telman free throws during the low scoring period.

“We got frustrated,” DiGennaro said. “We looked like sophomores at that time. Our shot selection was off. We started forcing things and they block out so well that we weren’t getting any second shots. Their second shots were keeping them around.”

The Cougars have been offensively challenged since their standout guard Luke Conrad had his season ended with a concussion. Jefferson kept up its defensive effort, so even with the lack of offense the Falcons didn’t panic and still led 29-28 at the end of the quarter.

“We didn’t panic,” Telman said. “We are confident in our team and we all trust each other. We know we can do the right things.”

The Falcons proved that they could win a tight game with one of their most important players on the bench. Perhaps, that chip got a little bit smaller.

“We’re going to get Tyler back and we’re really confident,” Langan said. “We’re glad that all of these Morris County teams have gotten a chance to see us play and finally give us a little respect.”

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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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