Jefferson’s amazing year will be remembered

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

JEFFERSON TWP. — The accomplishments of this year’s Jefferson team will be remembered for as long as the players bounce a basketball at the Morris County school. However, it’s going to take awhile for the Falcons to forget the sting of losing and the memory of how one of the team’s greatest season’s ended at the hands of a rival.

Senior center Mitch Cohen scored 15 points and grabbed 21 rebounds to lift Sparta to a 53-44 victory over Jefferson in North 1, Group III state tournament action on Friday.

Kevin Foulds added 15 points and Matt Chemis added 12 for the Spartans (22-5). Sparta moves on to play Teaneck in the sectional final on Monday in an 8 p.m. start at Teaneck High.

Chris Telman and J. R. Reese scored 12 points apiece for Jefferson. The Falcons were the last Morris County team alive in state tournament play.

49 bb st spjeff

Chris Telman’s (center) emergence was one of many reasons for Jefferson’s stellar season. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

It was a record-breaking year for the Falcons. A 25-2 mark was the best the program ever achieved. They also enjoyed a 21-game winning streak and started the season at 21-0. Individually, Tyler Jones scored 40 points to set a school record for scoring in a game. They were unbeaten in attaining their second consecutive NJAC-Freedom title. They also reached the semifinals for the Morris County Tournament for only the second time in school history, breaking a draught of nearly 40 years. That’s an awful lot to be proud of but it will take some time for the Falcons players to fully appreciate all the things they have done.

“It’s so hard right now because we knew this was a winnable game,” Jefferson coach Joe DiGennaro said. “We are so familiar with each other. We also knew that it was going to be a dogfight. The kids are crushed right now. I am trying to tell them we will be hanging banners and they can come back and look at them and I’m never going to forget this group. Going 25-2 is an unreal record because people slip up along the way and we really didn’t. Our two losses this year were to two fantastic teams. I’m just so proud of these guys. I’m really going to miss them.”

Sparta is a long time rival from the Sussex County Interscholastic League days and Friday’s contest in front of a packed audience at Freedom Gym was reminiscent of gritty, intense past performances between the two schools.

Sparta was also part of Jefferson’s win streak. The Falcons defeated the Spartans by a 63-47 score on January 13 also in Jefferson. This time around the Spartans had the answers.

39 bb st spjeffTyler Jones works the baseline for the Falcons. The senior wingman broke the school record for single-game scoring this year. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“The last time we came down here, they did the little things better than we did — rebounding was one of them,” Sparta coach Brian Brennan said. “I don’t know if they so much as out rebounded us (then) but they had the big rebounds.”

On Friday, nobody had bigger rebounds than Cohen. The Sparta center is large and beefy but agile for his size. He grabbed plenty of boards, especially on the defensive end to limit Jefferson’s second-chance scoring opportunities.

“What people don’t realize about him is that he plays both ends of the floor,” Brennan said. “He might not average 20 points a game, but he does average 16 boards, both offense and defense. Tonight he showed that, at the end of the game he had 21 rebounds. He also had three or four blocked shots and five and six contests on jump shots on the hedge. MItchell has been doing great for us all year. Sometimes people forget about him because he’s not dropping 20 (points) a night. He’s always there.

“He might be the most outstanding presence that we’ve ever had in the paint in the 10 years I’ve been here. … We can’t be more thrilled with what he brings to the table game in and game out.”

Sparta led 20-18 at the half. Vin Ginefra knocked down a 3-point shot to start the third quarter and Jefferson maintained a lead for the first six minutes of the third quarter. The Spartans rallied and Foulds knocked down a 3-point shot from the corner to take a 33-31 edge with 1:45 left in the period. A Chemis 3-pointer helped Sparta to a 36-31 lead to end the quarter.

24 bb st spjeff

Jefferson’s Bryan Langan drives to the basket but Sparta’s Mitch Cohen (0) was a constant obstacle. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Getting an advantage going into the final period was pivotal for Sparta. In the opening minute Ginefra was assessed a pair of fouls and fouled out of the game. The last one could be considered questionable since Sparta’s Teddy Fischer was on a breakaway and he met Ginefra in front of the basket. The players collided and the bang-bang, block-charge call could’ve gone either way. As a result Jefferson lost one of its important players.

“Absolutely (it hurt us),” DiGennaro said. “We needed another shooter out there and Vinnie can shoot the ball. If he hits the big three (which rimmed out seconds earlier) and draws the charge, we get all the momentum in the world. It was a questionable call that seemed to change everything.”

Fischer hit one of his two free throws to make it 37-31 and the Spartans never relinquished the lead. Sparta always encourages its players to push to the basket in an attempt to draw fouls. In the fourth quarter, Sparta was patient with the ball and picked its spots when it came to driving to the basket. When the Sparta players were fouled they went 13 of 17 from the line. Sparta guard Austin Unglaub was 8 of 11 during the final period in which the Spartans scored 17 total points.

“Mitch hit big free throws, Kevin I think was 6 for 6 tonight,” Brennan said. “It’s a complete team effort and we did what we did best. We played great defense. We held them to 41 points and we took our chances on offense and took advantage of our opportunities.”

Langan and Telman knocked down 3-point shots late in the game but it was too much for the Falcons to overcome. The game ended with Jefferson getting a standing ovation from its proud fans for a very enjoyable season but it took quite awhile for the players to emerge from their team room later on. They were sullen then but their exploits will be praised for years when standout Falcons teams are mentioned.

“It hurts tonight but we will always look back on them in terms of a very special team,” said DiGennaro, who is also a former Falcons player and alum. “We’ve been around since 1964. I told them the mark they left this year for us to follow was something we will always talk about. I will talk about it and I plan on being around for a long time.”

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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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