DUNELLEN, NJ–After being at the Brunswick Classic in the afternoon, GMC Hoops headed over to the Faber Gymnasium in Dunellen to see two games from the opening round of the 2009 Shello/Santy Tournament. In the first contest, which was already well underway by the time the site arrived, Middlesex was taking on Manville. Then, in the nightcap, Dunellen hosted the Highland Park Owls, a newcomer to the tourney after playing in the Brearley Bear Tournament for many years.
Barnes Returns To The Lineup To Lift Middlesex Past Manville, 37-34
GMC Hoops arrived at the game a little more than midway through the fourth quarter with Manville leading 31-29. The Mustangs, which gave Middlesex quite a fight after beating knocked around the past several seasons in the opening round, then took a 34-29 lead on a three pointer from the right corner at the 3:58 mark for a 34-29 lead. Enter Avery Barnes. The senior forward, who had been sidelined with a back injury since August according to Middlesex head coach, Brian Feath, got his team going again in his first game back with a score at the 3:35 mark to close the gap to 34-31.
Following a Manville backcourt violation at the 3:31 mark, Barnes grabbed an offensive rebound at the other end, and put it back in to pull the Jays to within one at 34-33 with 3:14 to go. After a Mustang timeout at the 2:56 mark, the Somerset County squad was called for a double-dribble with 2:36 to go, but recovered by swiping a steal off Barnes at the 2:28 mark. There was a bit of a lull in the action until Barnes put Middlesex ahead for good on an offensive rebound and follow at the 1:30 mark.
The Blue Jays tried to run some time off the clock, but had to call timeout at the 50 second mark, and again at the 38 second mark as Manville’s defense almost forced turnovers. The Mustangs finally got a Middlesex miscue as Wells was called for a backcourt violation with 30 seconds left. However, Manville couldn’t take advantage as a runner in the lane with 14 seconds left was off the mark, and then Middlesex got a layup from Sean Paul off an assist by Wells with five seconds remaining for a 37-34 lead. The Mustangs had one last chance to tie, but the three point attempt from the top of the key went off the rim as time expired with the Jays advancing to face Highland Park in the final.
Highland Park Survives Tremendous Comeback Attempt By Dunellen
Coming into this contest, things weren’t looking up for Dunellen on paper. Highland Park had soundly defeated a South Amboy team that the Destroyers only beat by one on opening night, and edged a Kennedy team in overtime that rolled past DHS twenty-four hours later. Add to that the fact that the GMC Blue had defeated the GMC Gold in every crossover matchup so far this season, and Dunellen not starting Jonard Hall and Luke Francisco, and things were looking like the Owls were going to coast to the Championship Game.
You could see it in the attitude of the Highland Park team as they took the floor for warm-ups. The Owls were very easy going, and perhaps overconfident. One thing was for sure, and that was HPHS was not ready to play, and it resulted in two quick fouls for standout player, David Webb. At first the Owls seemed unfazed though as they took advantage of a Dunellen team that had three sophomores and a freshman on the floor. Forcing numerous turnovers on five second calls and steals, the Owls pressured a Dunellen team that looked like a deer caught in the head lights early on. The result was a 22-4 lead after one quarter, and a 28-4 advantage with 6:30 to go in the first half.
After Dunellen tied the game up at 2-2 on a baseline drive for a layup by Sean Gibney (got all four of DHS’s points in quarter), Webb sank a jumper from the right side to put the Owls up 4-2 with 6:02 to go in the first. Webb, who also played football at Highland Park, handed out an assist on a layup by Frank Husslein with 5:26 to go in the period for a 6-2 lead. After Webb picked up his second foul, Temple bound, Nate Smith entered the contest, and immediately made an impact by anticipating a pass to his side, stealing it, and taking it in for a layup from the right hand side for an 8-2 lead at the 4:42 mark. Following a Dunellen timeout, Highland Park went back to work with a 6-2 run including a layup underneath by Husslein, a putback by Husslein, and a layup by Smith for a 14-4 lead.
The Owls then closed out the quarter with an 8-0 run including another steal for a layup by Smith to take a 22-4 lead, and began the second with six more points including a steal for a layup and a jumper by Webb to take a 28-4 lead just 9:30 into the contest. However, Dunellen started to show signs of life as Francisco entered the game, and helped settle the inexperienced Destroyers down. The home team responded with one of two free throws by Dylan Hoski, and a drive for a layup by Jeff Puckett to pull within 28-8 at the 5:53 mark. Momentum continued to build as DHS then scored 10 of the next 14 points on three treys from Francisco all from the same spot at the top of the key, and one of two from the line by Jeff Puckett for a 32-18 Highland Park lead at the 3:42 mark.
Led by the feistiness of Hoski, a freshman, Dunellen closed the half with a 6-2 run including another one of two free throws by Jeff Puckett, a layup by Hoski, and one of two from the line by Francisco for a 34-24 Owls lead at the half. In the third quarter, the Destroyers, which outscored Highland Park by a 32-16 margin in the middle two periods, took advantage of Mike Long picking up his third foul at the 7:30 mark by putting together an 8-4 run over the first 5:26 of the frame including a two drives for a scores by Francisco, and a layup by Hoski off the press break to close the gap to 38-32 with 2:34 to go in the period. Hall then entered the game, and played valiantly with two free throws at the 1:27 mark for a 38-34 Owls lead.
After a Highland Park turnover at the 54 second mark, the Destroyers closed out the third period scoring as Francisco tracked down an inbounds pass and dished to Gibney to caught the ball and put it in while still in the air for a 38-36 Owls lead heading into the fourth. Dunellen continued to scratch and claw its way back with enthusiastic encouragement from the partisan crowd. Following a Husslein score at the 7:43 mark for a 40-36 lead, DHS tied the game up at 42-42 with a 6-2 burst over the next 1:47 including a pull-up jumper by Gibney at the 7:19 mark and two free throws by Hall at the 5:56 mark. However, the long climb back appeared to have taken a lot out of the Destroyers.
After Dunellen had a chance to take the lead, and missed a one and one at the 5:40 mark, HPHS responded with a 10-0 spurt over the next 2:56 including a pair of free throws by Husslein at the 5:26 mark, a steal by Webb, who passed to Husslein for a shot that was missed, but followed by Mike Long at the 5:05 mark, an offensive rebound and putback by Husslein off a block by Hall at the 3:40 mark, and a steal for a layup by Webb. Seemingly down and out, DHS responded with an 8-0 run of its own including 6 of 8 from the foul line, and a steal for a layup by Gibney at the 16 second mark to pull within two at 52-50. The Destroyers couldn’t get over the hump though as Husslein made one of two from the line with 14 seconds left, and then Webb got the rebound on the miss, and drew the foul, which produced another one of two from the line. Francisco then closed out the scoring with a three pointer for the 54-53 final.
With the win, Highland Park improves to 3-1 overall on the season and in conference play while Dunellen falls to 1-2. The Owls will play Blue Division rival Middlesex in the Championship on Wednesday at 7:00 PM while Dunellen faces Manville in the Consolation at 3:00 PM.
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