After falling in the Morris County Tournament semifinals to Mount Olive by two points last season, the Morristown boys basketball team entered Saturday night’s semifinal against Jefferson ready to go one step further.
The third-seeded Colonials did just that, dealing the second-seeded Falcons their first loss of the season 76-52 to advance to their first MCT final since 2003.
“We lost three starters from last year’s team and I think the other guys that came off the bench last year were here before and they’ve experienced it before and they’re everything that high school sports is supposed to be about, competitive drive, they play for each other and their will to win,” Morristown coach Bill Connolly said. “Those three things and their experience I think helped them.”
Morristown didn’t score its first points until almost two minutes into the first quarter, but the Colonials heated up quickly and took a 12-7 lead with 1 minute, 30 seconds left on a 3-pointer from senior guard Sean Hoehn.
Junior forward Joseph Rossi scored back-to-back baskets to pull the Falcons within 12-11 with 45 seconds left but it was short lived as junior guard Jack Mongey hit a 3-pointer with 27.2 to go and Hoehn connected on a three-point play with 5.1 left in the first to give Morristown an 18-11 advantage.
“We expected them to come out hard,” Morristown senior forward Nick Duff said of the Falcons. “They wanted to win as much as we did, and it’s a very important game. They’ve never been here before, they’ve had a great season, so we were expecting them to come out hard, we knew we had to come out hard too and play and we did that.”
Morristown stretched its lead to 23-14 with 6:17 left in the half but Jefferson fought back to within 25-19 with a free throw senior guard Dakota Nobile with 4:04 remaining. From there the Colonials started to pull away and took a 12-point lead, 33-21, on two free throws from Hoehn and closed out the half up 36-23.
The Colonials kept it going in the third, taking a 40-23 lead on a basket by Hoehn and holding the Falcons scoreless for three and a half minutes.
“We made an effort to try and attack the basket,” Duff said. “In the second half the shots were falling better than the first half, we put up a decent amount of points but it was really on defense that we excelled today.”
Senior guard Chris Telman and senior forward Tyler Jones hit back-to-back 3s to get Jefferson back within 40-29, but over the next three minutes Morristown outscored the Falcons 13-4 to take a commanding 20-point lead, 53-33, with 2:02 left.
Both teams scored 18 points in the fourth quarter, Telman was responsible for nine points for the Falcons, but the damage was done and Morristown rolled to the 76-52 final.
“We just wanted make sure we stayed solid,” Duff said. “Made them have to take tough shots like we do every game, that’s the goal, make them take tough twos and I thought we did that today. I thought we executed the game plan well.”
Hoehn scored a game-high 32 points while Duff chipped in 12 points. Senior guard James Mongey scored eight points and senior forward Zach Certner had seven points.
Telman finished with a team-high 17 points while Rossi and senior forward Tyler Jones, who sat out the quarterfinals with an illness, each finished with 10 points.
Jefferson, which had advanced to the MCT semifinals for the first time in 39 years, was dealt its first loss of the season after a school-record 21-game run.
Morristown will try to win its first title since defeating Mendham 51-43 for its eighth-overall title in 2002. The Colonials will face the winner of No. 4 Mendham and No. 1 Mount Olive in the final next Saturday at 7 p.m. at CCM.
“If it’s Mount Olive we get to avenge last year’s loss so it’ll be nice if we get to do that,” Duff said. “It’s going to be fun, whoever we play we’re going to come out, execute and try to bring home the championship to our school.”