There couldn’t have been a better environment to win the school’s second sectional title for the Matawan boys basketball team.
The Huskies were the No. 1 seed in the NJSIAA Central Group II bracket, they played before a capacity crowd on Tuesday night and they turned in one of their best games of the season as they outlasted No. 10 seed Rumson-Fair Haven, 67-54, to celebrate in style as their fans stormed the court once the game was over.
“I told our kids going in, you earned it, you got here, I can’t help you out tonight. Because tonight it is all about you, what you did to get here,” Matawan coach Tom Stead said. “I’m going to yell and I’m going to be intense. But you know what, I have to let you play tonight. That was the game plan coming in because in a loud gym they aren’t going to hear me anyways.”
Loud, hot, standing-room-only was the atmosphere the teams played in at Matawan High School.
The Huskies (24-4) started the game by going 3-for-3 from 3-point range and overall making four three-pointers in the first quarter, which vaulted them to a 14-12 lead after the first quarter. Senior guard Chris Tawiah had two of those three-pointers and junior guards Jason Dunne and Joe Piscopo each had one three-pointer in the first quarter.
“We withstood that, they hit four three-pointers right off the bat. I felt we were in good position at halftime. I feel like their energy level in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter, was really good,” Rumson-Fair Haven coach Chris Champeau said. “They are a lot tougher and quicker in person than they are on film. It turned into a football type of grind-out game. They have some tough guards and they got it done.”
Speaking of that fourth quarter, Dunne and Piscopo were at their best when Matawan needed to break away from Rumson-Fair Haven to make school history. Dunne had 12 of his team’s 22 fourth-quarter points and Piscopo had seven in the fourth quarter points as the Huskies’ guards kept attacking with a sectional title in sight.
Matawan will now play Camden, the South Group II winner, on Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Perth Amboy High School in the NJSIAA Group II state semifinals with a berth in Sunday’s state finals at Rutgers University on the line.
Rumson-Fair Haven (17-11) cut Matawan’s lead down to 56-51 in the fourth quarter but the Huskies ended the game on a game-breaking 11-3 run, prompting the fans to storm the court as the team gave coach Stead the traditional Gatorade bath.
“Every gym that we went into this year, if they beat us they (the fans) stormed the court. I just told (our players) to take the crowd out of it and play our game,” Champeau said. “In the second half, we were down 10 or 11 points and we cut it back down to four points and then we couldn’t get a stop. Their guards got us in the end.”
And that was Dunne and Piscopo in the fourth quarter combining for 19 of the team’s 22 fourth-quarter points. Dunne finished with 20 points and Piscopo had 21 points while Tawiah added 10 points.
“I can’t describe how this feels. It is surreal. It hasn’t hit me yet,” Piscopo said. “This town supported a team that never really had a good basketball record. We’ve had every game packed this year and winning this sectional title is a dream come true.”
Rumson-Fair Haven senior forward Jack Herrmann scored a team-high 21 points while sophomore guard Brendan Barry added 11 points.