Rams Couldn’t Overcome Strong First Quarter Start by Panthers
PRINCETON, NJ—For the first time since the 2015-16 boys basketball season, the Wardlaw-Hartridge Rams played in the NJSIAA Prep B State Tournament Semifinals.
To put that in perspective, the last time Wardlaw reached this point in the Prep B State Playoffs, Ryan Petela, who graduated from the school last June after scoring 1,000 points for the Rams, was only a freshman. It was only the second time that the Rams reached the Prep B semis since joining the GMC in the 2010-11 season.
The last time that Wardlaw reached the Prep B Semifinals, it lost to the Princeton Day School (63-44) on February 14th, a day after losing to South Amboy in the 2016 GMCT Play-In Round. The Panthers would go on to win its last NJSIAA Prep B State Title with a 66-62 win over Morristown-Beard in the Championship.
Four years to the day later, the two teams would meet again at the PDS Upper School Gym on Friday afternoon. Wardlaw, which finished 9-14 overall in 2015-16, came into the match-up with a 17-4 overall record including a 14-2 mark in the GMC Gold.
On the other hand, Princeton Day, which rolled past Newark Academy in the opening round on Sunday (86-47), entered the contest only 8-9 overall including a 44-42 defeat to Montgomery on Tuesday (February 11th). Four years ago, PDS finished at 16-8.
It wouldn’t matter though. Just like four years earlier, Princeton Day School would win on this day. The Panthers jumped out to a 23-12 lead over the first 10:53 of the contest, and wouldn’t let Wardlaw get closer than 7 points late in the second before leading by as many as 18 in the fourth quarter en route to a 55-39 victory.
The win by the Princeton Day School put the Panthers in the 2020 NJSIAA Prep B Championship next week against the winner of top seeded Doane Academy, which received a first round bye, and 4th seeded Pennington, which play in the other semifinal game on Sunday afternoon.
Wardlaw got inspired play from both of its sophomore guards, Saivon Pressley and Mehkai Huey, who combined for 89 percent of the Rams first half points, and attacked the basket for scores in the second half, but it wasn’t enough. The Rams had trouble making shots from the perimeter, and had trouble managing the interior play of PDS including Ethan Garita, a transfer from Trenton, who led all scorers with 13 points in the first half.
In the second half, Pressley, who struggled to find a rhythm offensively, continued to battle with with an acrobatic drive through the middle for an and one in the third, and then got another layup for an and one in the fourth along with a putback. Huey also added a couple nifty buckets while dishing for another from Saleem Ibraheem.
After drawing within seven on two occasions late in the second, Wardlaw-Hartridge couldn’t get any closer than 12 in the second half including a 47-35 deficit midway through the fourth. Moments later though, the Panthers connected on a three pointer from the left corner for a 50-35 advantage.
The three sparked an 8-2 run that was capped by a three point play by Jaylin Champion-Adams, who scored the 1,000th point of his point of his career in the third, for a 55-37 lead. Wardlaw then got two free throws in the final minutes from senior reserve, Dylan Forsythe to close out the scoring.
With the victory, Princeton Day improved to .500 at 9-9 overall while Wardlaw fell to 17-5. The Rams received a bye to the preliminary round of the 2020 GMCT, and will take on 17th seeded Spotswood on Tuesday in a rematch of a game on February 1st won by Wardlaw (58-51) in North Edison. It is the first time that Wardlaw will play in the preliminary round of the GMCT for only the second time ever.
Wardlaw’s only win in the GMCT occurred in the 2013 GMCT Play-In Round when it defeated Gold Division rival, and then 19th seeded Timothy Christian (52-51). The Rams would lose to Colonia in the preliminary round that year. Wardlaw-Hartridge also received a bye for the first time ever in the GMCT. Looking further ahead to the state playoffs, the Rams will taken on 8th seeded Trenton Catholic in the opening round of the 2020 NJSIAA Non-Public B State Playoffs on March 3rd.