Destroyers Hold Off Late Rally By Bulldogs to Advance to N2G1 Semis for 3rd Time Since 2006
DUNELLEN, NJ—A year ago, the Dunellen Destroyers hosted Jonathan Dayton in the 2019 NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2 Group 1 Quarterfinals at The Faber in Dunellen. On that day, it didn’t end well for Dunellen.
Despite a combined 35 points from Drew Johnson (19 points and 3 blocks) and Tyje’ Kelton (double-double of 16 points and 13 rebounds), the then 3rd seeded Destroyers still lost to the then 6th seeded Bulldogs, 59-56 thanks to a game high 30 points from D.J. Alicea.
Top seeded Dunellen, which finished 20-7 a year ago, was looking to avenge that defeat as it hosted 9th seeded Dayton of Springfield in Union County. This was the 3rd time since 2013 that these two teams faced off against each other in the North Jersey Section 2 Group 1 Playoffs.
The first time was in the 2013 N2 Group 1 Semifinals at Dayton in Springfield. It was the 2nd time Dunellen’s boys basketball team reached the sectional semifinals under then head coach, Bernie Buniak. The Destroyers ended up losing, 59-41 that season to finish at 19-7.
This time though, Dunellen was determined to change the script and take a big step toward its first sectional championship since 1968. Leading 21-17 at the half, the Destroyers opened the third period with the first 10 points over a 3:30 span including a layin by Nasir White and two scores from Kelton.
Drew Johnson, who along with Jalen Thomas also contributed a bucket during the early 2nd half flurry, then followed up with a baseline drive from the right side, and a three from the top of the key to give the Destroyers a 36-24 lead at the 7:51 mark of the fourth.
Jonathan Dayton wouldn’t go away though. Despite back to back threes from Johnson for a 46-38 lead with just under three minutes left, the Bulldogs, led by Alicea, put together a 24-15 surge over a 7:45 span including 10 of 15 points to pull within three at 51-48 with 5.6 seconds left.
After a free throw from Kelton, the Bulldogs fired in a three from the left wing as time ran out for the final 52-51 score that catapulted Dunellen into the N2 Group 1 sectional semifinals for the first time in 7 years, and 3rd time since 2006. Like a year ago, Johnson and Kelton led the way for the Destroyers.
Combining for 39 points, 16 rebounds, 7 steals, and 5 assists, Johnson and Kelton accounted for 75 percent of Dunellen’s scoring output. Johnson, who had 4 treys in the game including three in the fourth quarter, led all scorers with a game high 20 points while Kelton chipped in with a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds.
White also contributed with 7 points (including 4 in the 2nd half) and 6 rebounds, while Thomas (4 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists) and Mike Burr (2 points and 3 steals) rounded out the Dunellen scoring. Cameron Campbell-Miller led three different Jonathan Dayton players in double figures with 17 points.
Alicea was limited to just 13 points, which was less than half of his point total in last year’s quarterfinal contest versus the Destroyers. Josh Jackson added 11 points while Mahki Cromartie (7 points), Mike Kanarek (2 points), and A.C. Corigliano (1 point) rounded out the Bulldog scoring.
According to NJ.com, Dunellen as a team accounted for 16 field goals, 5 treys, 5 free throws for its 52 points. Meanwhile, Jonathan Dayton made 18 field goals, one three, and 14 foul shots for its 51 points. The Destroyers also collected 29 rebounds, 13 steals, 11 assists, and 3 blocks in the game.
Dunellen outscored Dayton in two of the first three periods before the Bulldogs put together a 27-19 surge in the final frame. Trailing by eight with 2:54 left, the Bulldogs scored 6 of the next 8 points including a layin at the 1:47 mark, and then two free throws from Alicea with 1:28 remaining for a 49-44 Destroyer lead.
Dayton scored four of the next 6 points after that including a layup with under a minute to play to pull within three. The Bulldogs couldn’t get any closer though. With the victory, Dunellen improved to 24-4 overall on the season, and advanced to the semifinal round to face 12th seeded Weequahic of Newark, which was a 60-47 winner over Weehawken in another N2G1 Quarterfinal on Friday night.
With his scoring effort against Jonathan Dayton, Kelton crossed the 1,900 career point plateau to 1,918. Dayton, which knocked off 8th seeded American History (54-51) in the first round, concluded its season at 12-13.