Defensive effort lifts Morristown to title game

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

Defense matters in any game of basketball but especially in tournament play. Often contests are decided upon a team’s willingness to stop an opponent in its tracks and limit what shots they take. In Morristown’s 76-52 victory over Jefferson, in Saturday’s Morris County Tournament semifinals, the Colonials made sure that their opponents shots weren’t always the best ones to take.

Senior guard Sean Hoehn scored 32 points and made sure that the Colonials attacked the basket. Morristown’s defense worked in unison to keep Jefferson and its trio of scorers from getting the quality of shots they are used to getting.

“We just had to close on the shooters,” Hoehn said. “We know it’s a big stage and we were closing out hard and staying in front of our guys. We were blocking out. We knew they were a very good offensive rebounding team. When they got their offensive rebounds they would put them back up. They had a couple plays where they did that. During timeouts we would fix that up. We boxed out and denied them second-chance points.”

Morristown had the intangible of MCT experience and took advantage of it early. It was Jefferson’s first trip to the County College of Morris court in 39 years. Some of the Colonials players, including a few starters, lost to Mount Olive in last year’s semifinals. The familiarity of the venue and its hectic atmosphere often plays a role in the late stages of the MCT. It helped the Colonials get off to a better start then their opponents.

“This environment is different,” Morristown’s Nick Duff said. “Coming in here blind, it’s a little bit tougher. We came in knowing what it was gong to be like. It was going to be a wild environment. We did what we had to do.”

55 bb mct semi

It was Nick Duff’s job to make sure Jefferson’s Tyler Jones didn’t have a big day against Morristown. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

The last time Hoehn stepped on the CCM court, the result was a 28-point performance. Morristown’s senior guard has made it known through his actions that he is not afraid of the spotlight.

“It’s all coming down to getting used to the feeling,” Hoehn said. “It definitely is an advantage, knowing the rims, knowing what the court is like. Sometimes you think the 3-point line is the college line, you get used to that and know which one it is. You have to pace yourself on a long court — a college court. It definitely played a big factor.”

Morristown led 18-11 after the first quarter and 36-23 at the half. Jefferson, with a 21-0 record going into the game, had won nearly all of its previous contests by sizable margins. It showed it could gut out a tough game in last week’s quarterfinal win over Chatham. However, the Colonials defensive effort wasn’t going to let the Falcons get that opportunity this time around.

The Morristown defense is underrated but well tested. The Colonials allow less than 48 points a game. They have also seen good competition, from the physical teams of the NJAC-National, of which they are unbeaten, to pre-season competition the likes of Linden and Bloomfield.

14 bb mct semiSean Hoehn pushed the ball to the rim and helped Morristown build a sizable early lead. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

On Saturday, the Colonials focused on not allowing the Jefferson guards to get good penetration on their attempts at going to the rim.

“They had two quick guards,” Duff said. Our guards did a good job of getting in front of them. It was hard for them to get points in the paint so they started to settle (for jump shots). It’s really tough when the other guys lock you down to get in the paint and try to finish.”

Falcons senior guard Bryan Langan was completely stymied and held to three points. Chris Telman finished with 17 points mostly from outside jumpers. As the team’s best defender, he had his hands full trying to slow down Hoehn. However, he gave away five inches in height and Hoehn took full advantage.

“He’s a very good defender,” Hoehn said. “He is swarming. He has quick hands. He was right there on my hip the whole game. It was tough to get by him.”

Another important defensive assignment was keeping Jefferson’s Tyler Jones in check. The Falcons standout is capable of having a big offensive game on occasion. He set a school record by scoring 40 points in a contest earlier in the year.

“We had to deny (Jones) the ball,” Hoehn said. “Deny him on the wings, deny him on the screens, switch on the screens, fight through them. We just had to not let him get going. If he gets going, Jefferson could be tough.”

Jones finished with 10 points and did not have the impact on the game that he could have. Duffy often had help but it was his job to keep Jones in check most of the time.

“We knew that Jones was a good player, a good individual player.” Duffy said. “We didn’t want him to come out and make shots. We just wanted to close out on all those guys.”

Jones knocked down a 3-pointer at the 5-minute mark of the third quarter to cut the deficit to 40-29 but the Falcons never got the contest back to single digits. Duffy answered with a 3-point shot that triggered a 17-5 run. Threes by Hoehn and James Mongey were included in the spree that made it a 57-34 game going into the final period. At that point, Morristown knew it was locked into a big game next Saturday.

“I’m not sure Morristown High School has ever been 19-1 after 20 games,” Morristown coach Bill Connolly said. “The kids deserve a lot of credit. They are everything high school sports is supposed to be about.”

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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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