Mount Olive’s title game was a wild ride

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

RANDOLPH — After celebrating one of the most exciting Morris County Tournament finishes, Mount Olive coach Kevin Moore had to chuckle.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Moore asked. “Does everybody have a ride home? ”

Ride? The Marauders were so happy they could fly home.

Senior guard Rashaan Spencer scored 36 points and put in his own miss with :0.9 seconds left in regulation to give Mount Olive a 75-73 victory over Morristown in a thrilling MCT title game in front of a full house at County College of Morris on Saturday night.

Spencer earned tournament Most Valuable Player honors to help the Marauders repeat as champions. Senior center Zach Heeman added 20 points for Mount Olive, which was the top seed in the tournament.

Senior guard Sean Hoehn scored 23 points and Nick Duff had 20 points for the third-seeded Colonials. Morristown was trying to earn its first county title since 2002.

It was a legitimate query from Moore. Mount Olive’s bus broke down in the school parking lot before the game and the athletes carpooled to CCM. What could have been a bad omen turned into a minor inconvenience for the defending champs.

“You have to fight through it,” said Heeman, who was last year’s MVP. “Whatever happens, happens. If we lost that game, that wasn’t going to be our excuse. You have to battle through it. It’s something to tell your kids.”

The Marauders battled through a lot on Saturday. At the finish, what there was no question about was the strength and determination of Spencer. The Mount Olive players have come to depend upon the 5-foot-11 guard as one of their leaders. With the ball in his hands, they always believe that good things can happen.

25 bb mct finalMount Olive’s Rashaan Spencer scored 36 points including the final basket to earn MVP honors. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“Rashaan plays big in big games,” teammate Jason Drury said. “He’s a great teammate. He’s never selfish. He always does what’s best for the team. He’s our leader. I knew that once he got it, he was going to lay it in. I had confidence in him.”

Spencer had 16 points at the half and nine of his team’s 18 fourth-quarter points.

“He goes in spurts,” Heeman said. “You kind of have to take a step back and it’s amazing. I’ve seen very few players who can do that. He worked his butt off all year. He’s worked his butt off all four years and it’s a true testament of what this program is and what all the kids that are coming through the classes can do. It’s exciting to be a part of it.”

Mount Olive gave great credit to the Morristown team for its tenacity and in particular to Morristown playmaker and the county’s top scorer Hoehn. Part of the defensive problem for the Marauders was in their anxiousness to cover the senior standout they gave too much space for his teammates. The Colonial buried more than their share of perimeter shots.

“I had to tell the guys at halftime, instinctually you have to step off when you see Hoehn driving,” Moore said. “We wanted to tell the guys to stay home. We have Zach (Heeman) under the basket. We would commit (to Hoehn) and we were leaving guys open.”

100 bb mct finalThe Marauders celebrate their second consecutive MCT title. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

It made Mount Olive susceptible to the 3-point shot and Morristown took advantage. Jack Mongey and Nick Duff knocked down well-timed treys and the Colonials took a 46-40 lead into halftime.

The Marauders changed that in the third quarter. The Colonials started missing from the outside while Mount Olive guards Chris Grillo, Drury and at the very end Donte Wise made each Hoehn drive more and more of a struggle.

“We knew if we came in here and played our game, we could pull it off,” Spencer said. “If we stopped Hoehn, we knew we had a chance to win. They are not like any other team. Other teams don’t knock down shots as much as they do. We knew both of them (Mongeys) could knock down shots. We were lucky in the second half that they started missing.”

60 bb mct finalMount Olive’s defense was focused on limiting the efforts of Morristown’s Sean Hoehn. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

The Colonials shot 2 of 13 from the field including 2 of 7 from behind the arc in the third quarter. Soon Mount Olive, which outscored them 17-6 in the quarter, took the lead back and built an advantage of its own. A Duff 3-pointer just before the end of the period cut Morristown’s deficit to 57-52 going into the fourth quarter.

Hoehn hit the last of his two 3-point shots to start the fourth quarter. After that neither team had more than a 4-point advantage during the final seven minutes of the game.

There were four fourth-quarter ties, the last forged from a 3-point shot from the right side by Jack Mongey, which banked in around the nine-second mark, to make it 70-all. The Marauders quickly pushed the ball up court for Spencer to take a shot, rebound his miss and put it back up while falling to the ground.

When the ball went in, Spencer ran back toward mid-court. His teammates, many of them flying in from off the bench, swarmed him and eventually tackled him once he reached past the center stripe. They all went down in a heap as cheers and groans bounced off the CCM walls. It was bedlam. One of the most exciting and dramatic finishes in the history of the 45-year tournament.

84 bb mct finalMount Olive coach Kevin Moore has taken the Marauders to the MCT title game for three consecutive seasons. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“It’s great,” Moore said. “These guys earned it. Every week, there’s an article or there’s something about who ever we are playing. These guys take it personal. They read everything. Every time it is about somebody else. These guys kill themselves. Come to one of our practices. Never mind now, during summer and fall (workouts). They put in so much time. This is the fruits of their labor.”

It is especially gratifying for seniors like Spencer, Heeman and Traub. The legacy of Mount Olive boys basketball legacy has to be considered average at best before their appearance. They helped the Marauders reach the MCT championship game for three consecutive seasons, and given the school two county titles to remember and enjoy.

“We just wanted to keep battling with them and hopefully it would fall our way,” Heeman said. “It’s a great feeling to do this for the town and keep this (award) in the trophy case for one more year.”

Note: The all tournament team included Heeman and Spencer (MVP) of Mount Olive, Hoehn, Duff and James Mongey of Morristown and Jack Horan of Mendham.

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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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