When the 2012-13 scholastic boys’ basketball schedule was released, Schalick High School had Jan. 15 circled on its calendar.
The date was accompanied by a visit from local rival Delsea, which dealt the Cougars a 23-point loss in the two sides’ meeting last year. While Tuesday’s clash lost some luster with the Crusaders down their star player in senior forward Cedric Elleby, the game was not short on excitement.
Schalick accomplished its mission, rallying from a six-point, first-quarter deficit to top visiting Delsea, 81-76, in a Tri-County Conference interdivision contest.
“This was a payback game for us,” said Schalick senior Melvin Allen, who scored 16 points in the victory. “They got us last year, but we’re another year older now and we figured we could get them this time.”
With Elleby out, 6-foot, 9-inch Cougars center Rashaan Holloway went to work, scoring a game-high 35 points to go with 10 rebounds. Junior forward DeAndre Solomon added 15 points in the win for Schalick (8-3).
The Cougars were pleased with the victory, but the group was hoping to accomplish it against a full-strength Delsea (4-7) team.
“I was a little disappointed,” Holloway said of not going up against Elleby. “I wanted to play against him, I wanted to see how we stacked up with them across the board.”
For a while, it didn’t look like Delsea would even need Elleby.
Sophomore forward Kwame Morton had a big hand in the Crusaders’ early success. The sophomore, playing in his first game since transferring from Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn and sitting out the required 30 days by the NJSIAA, scored a team-high 25 points for Delsea. Morton scored 10 of those points in a first quarter that Delsea finished up 26-20.
But the sophomore took two early fouls, forcing him to the bench with 2 minutes, 18 seconds left in the opening quarter as the Delsea offense went stagnant. Schalick answered with a resounding 21-2 run to open the second quarter to take a commanding 41-28 lead. Holloway paced the run, scoring nine points for Schalick in that span of just over six minutes.
“It was tough coming out of the game with the foul trouble and sitting there watching, hoping the guys could pick up the slack,” Morton said. “I didn’t think it would hurt us that much, though. We have a lot of guys on this team who can score.”
Schalick took an eight-point lead into halftime and weathered an early Delsea run in the third quarter that saw the Crusaders narrow the deficit to 43-40. Schalick would answer Delsea’s pushes, however, as the team scored the next 10 points to reopen a 53-40 lead.
“They’re a team that can score points, we knew that coming in,” Holloway said. “We just had to keep our composure and score the same as they did. We knew they were going to keep coming at us.”
The Crusaders made a desperation push in the fourth quarter behind guard Ronnie Russell, who scored 13 of his 23 points in the final eight minutes. Russell cut the Schalick lead to 74-69 on a free throw with 2:20 to play and hit back-to-back 3-pointers, the second coming with just 1.2 seconds left, to get Delsea within 79-76. Schalick got a clean look on the in-bounds pass and Allen salted the game away by converting a pair of free throws.
“I knew it was going to be a track meet from the start,” Russell noted of the game’s fast pace. “I didn’t expect to get into the 80s like it did, but I knew it would be up there. It’s tough, it’s just a game, but we had a chance and dug too deep of a hole.”
In the end, it was obvious Schalick’s height advantage on the inside proved to be the difference.
“Their big kid (Holloway) did a real nice job getting a low seal and we just weren’t able to push him off that spot and give them credit, they went to him over and over again, and we tried the best we could and just needed to do a better job,” Delsea coach Tom Freeman said. “We had some good stretches, but we had some tough stretches where we couldn’t put the ball in the hole and that hurt us.”