By Mark Kitchin
Mount Olive is eager to defend its title. Morristown has a chance to create another chapter in the school’s basketball tradition. Which team will fulfill its destiny? The thrilling answers will come on Saturday when they meet in the Morris County Tournament final. The top-seeded Marauders and third-seeded Colonials will play at the County College of Morris in Randolph in a 7 p.m. start.
The teams have not played each other this year and the schools have very little recent basketball history between them. However, they did play in last year’s semifinals and had a 62-60 game that was led by Mount Olive until Morristown rallied late. Colonials’ Sean Hoehn scored 28 points in last years game while Zach Heeman led the Marauders with 19. Will a year make a difference? There are different supporting casts, but much of the same strategies are involved.
Morristown has dominated their foes with double-digit wins against previously unbeaten Jefferson, West Morris and Morris Hills in tournament play. The 76-52 win was impressive as it was able to both push the ball on offense and use its defense to stifle a quality opponent.
Hoehn, who triggers the offense, has been exceptional. The senior guard averages 27 points a game and he had double-digit games against all his MCT opponents. He has demonstrated that he enjoys the spotlight and can step up in games that mean something. Most of the time he makes the right decisions with the ball. He is good at driving to the basket. When he’s fouled he knocks down his free throws. As the season has gone on, his teammates have gotten better and better at getting open for him. They can knock down open shots once they have the ball.
Zach Certner is underrated in his post up abilities. Nick Duff is an extremely capable player on both the offense and defensive end. The Mongeys (James and Jack) have perimeter power. A. J. Tracey also plays key roles on offense and defense.
Can Morristown play an up-tempo game? Yes, but they have to pick their spots. They won’t try to control the tempo as much as Mount Olive. Morristown coach Bill Connolly started his coaching career at Mendham and he no doubt has been taking notes on what has worked for the Minutemen when they played the Marauders. Morristown emphasizes driving to the basket and finishing which is a weakness for the Marauders. They would rather have the Colonials shoot from the perimeter since long rebounds trigger their breaks. However, Morristown has the kind of shooters that will make a lot of those shots. If the Colonials keep control into the half court, Mount Olive usually falls into a zone. Opponents have been able to penetrate it or shoot over it, but because of their big men, it is a difficult task to get a good shot in the paint.
Morristown plays terrific defense but can they play a half-court game against Mount Olive without the ability to match up well with Zach Heeman.
Heeman. last year’s MVP, is an athletic 6-foot 8-inches tall. He is mobile around the rim and is good at short jumpers and cutbacks. In last year’s MCT final, he had an awful offensive game but Mount Olive still prevailed against Chatham. His play will once again be pivotal if the Marauders expect to repeat as champions.
Offensively, Mount Olive wants to push the tempo. They don’t believe that most teams can run with them. The Grinnell System uses full-court pressure in order to disrupt an opponent from its offensive flow. Quick buckets off turnovers help as well. They also substitute in waves. Utilizing fresh legs tire out most of their opponents.
They can be aggressive on their presses because Heeman, or his 6-foot-8 teammate Ryan Traub, are usually around the basket ready to block or alter scoring opportunities.
The Marauders emphasize 3-point shooting and knock them down in quality numbers. Early round victories against Morris Catholic and Whippany Park came in identical 97-59 routs. In the semifinals, Mendham was able to slow them down but the Marauders still registered a 62-40 victory. They ratcheted up their pressure in the third quarter to put the game away.
The ability of Rashaan Spencer can’t be understated. He’s become the prime ballhandler and scorer for the Marauders. He also has been able to go on runs and take over games at times. His shooting ability and decision making has improved over last year. Donte Wise has been a brilliant addition. The DePaul transfer is a sky walker. He can inspire with a dunk or a blocked shot and has been a steady offensive contributor all season.
Mount Olive focuses on perimeter shooting. Spencer and Wise can hit them. So can Traub whose shot is difficult to block coming off the hand of such a tall player. Jason Drury, Chris Gallo and Griffin Conway also find their spots on the perimeter and can be deadly if left open. Brandon Hood may be overlooked, but he’s an athletic player that performs well in the Marauders full-court traps.
It’s been a lackluster MCT overall. There have been very few upsets or even close games. A classic final game could save it and the Mount Olive-Morristown matchup could develop into one of the best. It will be easy to see how the teams are performing. Just look at the standouts. Hoehn must be clicking if Morristown is to have a chance. A dominating performance by Heeman spells doom for the Colonials.
Morriistown proved last year that it is not afraid of Mount Olive and its style of play. Do the Colonials have enough depth and stamina to keep up with the Marauders? Will they try to slow things down at times? A pace in the 60s would be optimum for them. The Colonials also play good, tough defense, which may make the Marauders a little panicky and force some shots, especially if Morristown can take a lead.
This may be a very good game and a Morristown upset won’t be a surprise to many. Anything is possible. No one knows for sure until the whistle blows and the ball is tossed in the air.