The eighth-seeded Morris Catholic boys basketball team advanced to the Morris County Tournament quarterfinals for the first time in a long time with a 48-34 victory over No. 9 Morristown-Beard on Saturday.
“We’ve very excited, I don’t know how long it’s been in this school’s history, but it’s been a long time, and they deserve it,” Morris Catholic coach Dave Grande said. “We had to meld new guys together with guys that have been here and we get better and better as the year goes on. We’re working hard to get there.”
Morris Catholic and Morristown-Beard had already faced each other once this season, with the Crusaders taking a 52-49 victory back on Jan. 7. Coming into Saturday, the Crimson had won six of its last seven games, the last loss coming at the hands of Morristown on Jan. 25. The Crusaders extended its winning streak to nine, after having only one practice in the last week due to the snow earlier this week.
“I expected tough defense, hard play, a lot of energy and that’s what we talked about,” Grande said. “I thought the defense was outstanding, and probably the best defense we’ve played all year. Our intensity level from start to finish was there.”
Both teams took a couple of passes up and down the floor to get going at the start of the game as the Crusaders (15-4) scored their first point almost two minutes in. The Crimson (12-6) got on the board with back-to-back baskets to take a 4-1 lead with 5 minutes 31 seconds to go, but Morris Catholic managed to shake of its nerves and opened the scoring with a 12-0 run, thanks to six points from both sophomore forward Amir Allen and sophomore guard Wayne Patterson, to take a 13-4 lead with 2:16 left.
“It’s nerves, to start any game like this was nerves, and just stay with what we do,” Grande said of his team at the start. “We have so much confidence in what we’re doing and what we do, that we just stay with and just need to calm down. It’s just a basketball game.”
Morristown-Beard climbed back into the game, outscoring the Crusaders 6-2 and the first quarter closed with Morris Catholic up 15-10. The second quarter was even as both teams scored 10 points and the Crusaders took a 25-20 lead at the half.
At the start of the third quarter Morris Catholic opened on a 6-0 run for a 31-20 lead. Morristown-Beard coach Ed Franz called a timeout and his team responded with a 5-0 run of its own to pull within 31-25 with 4:20 to play.
Those five points, scored by senior guard/foward Stephen Sangree, were the only points the Crimson would score in the third quarter as Morris Catholic went on a 6-0 run to end the third quarter for a 37-25 advantage.
“Just a lot of good team chemistry, we’ve been playing for about three months now together so our chemistry is really good,” Allen said of Morris Catholic’s offense. “I expected (Morristown-Beard) to be hungry and to really want to win because we upset them at home I think it was 32 days ago, so I knew they were going to come here and try to do the same thing to us.”
Morris Catholic continued its barrage to open the fourth quarter, taking a 42-25 lead with 5:43 left on five-straight points from Allen. Junior forward Chris Pooler snapped the draught for the Crimson with a basket with 3:59 remaining, but Allen and Patterson combined for six points and Morristown-Beard simply ran out of time for the 48-34 final.
“We got the ball to the playmakers, we missed a few shots we normally make, that’s something we have to work on going into the next round, but we’re prepared,” said Patterson, who finished with 17 points, nine rebounds, two blocks and one steal. “(The defense) was better, the first game we only won by three points, this game we won by 15.”
Allen led the charge for the Crusaders with 23 points, 26 rebounds, five blocks and two steals. Junior forward Amir Hamilton chipped in six points, three rebounds, one steal and one block. For the Crimson, Sangree finished with 13 points, three rebounds and one assist. Pooler had nine points, four rebounds and two assists.
Morris Catholic will face the winner of No. 1 Mount Olive and No. 17 Whippany Park in the quarterfinals next Saturday.
“Of course, anyone who gets to the quarterfinals they’re going to be happy, but for the seniors, I’m sure they’re ecstatic for it because they’ve never been this far before, and it’s a great for them, their last year, to be able to do this,” Allen said.