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Boys’ Basketball: Dawgs get their bite back

By Lauree Padgett. Exclusive to Haddonfield[dot]Today.

At first consideration, going 1-3 for the week would not sound like a good stretch for the Haddonfield boys basketball team, especially as the regular season is winding down. However, even though the last game the Dawgs played this past week, on Saturday, 2/19, turned out to be a 12-point loss, it actually had a lot of positives. In this wrap-up I’m going to take a look at that game, provide a very short summary of the game versus the Pemberton Hornets that took place on Thursday, 2/17, because, well,  it really stung, and spend a chunk of time on the Dawgs’ last Colonial Conference game of the season, which started off the week on Tuesday, 2/15, at Haddon Heights High School versus the Garnets.

The Dawgs entered the game against the Garnets knowing they had, for the first time since 2012, not earned at least a share of the Colonial Liberty crown. In conference play, they were 12–3. In early January, when Heights came to Haddonfield, the game was pretty lopsided, as the Dawgs pulled off an easy, 66–35, W. I’m not sure what other Dawgs fans either in attendance or watching the live stream were thinking just ahead of tipoff, but sitting behind the boys’ bench, I was not anticipating another easy victory. This was in part because there had been a pre-game recognition of Mike Ricci, who had just become the Garnets’ winningest hoops coach, with 240 wins over his 14 seasons, which was sure to rev up his players.

However, as the first quarter unfolded, I started to rethink my pre-game concerns. The Dawgs jumped out to a 6–0 start on a basket from senior Tom Mooney and a pair from senior Matt Leming. After Heights got 2 on the board, Mooney hit a 2, and with 4:48 left in the quarter, Haddonfield was up by 7, 9–2. Mooney would put another point on the board from the foul line before the Garnets got another basket and a foul shot to make it 10–5, Dawgs. A 3 by Leming pushed the lead up to 8, 13–5, before Heights got another combo 3 from the floor and foul line to cut to it 13–8. Mooney would get the Dawgs’ next 6 points on a bucket and a foul shot and then his second 3 of the quarter, sandwiched between a pair of Garnet foul shots. That put the Dawgs’ lead up to 9, 19–10, at the 2:16 mark.

On their next possession, the Garnets had multiple unsuccessful scoring attempts until a foul was called against Haddonfield, but this time, the Garnets came up empty at the line. Senior Carson Wolff made what looked like a sideways shot that still found the net to give the Dawgs their first double-digit, 21–10, advantage, but a Heights bucket got it back down to single digits, 21–12, with about 53 seconds showing on the clock. After a missed shot by the Dawgs, the ball went out of bounds off Heights. Wolff inbounded the ball with 19 seconds to go, and after a good display of passing to run down the clock for the last shot, junior Teddy Bond hit a 3 ahead of the buzzer. That gave the Dawgs a 12-point edge, doubling the Garnets’ score. Those 12 points are what would secure Haddonfield’s win. That’s because for the next 3 quarters, even though it was never by more than 3 points, Haddon Heights outscored their guests.

The second quarter offense for the Dawgs dropped by 50%. The Dawgs only put 11 points on the board, on 3’s by Leming and Bond, a foul shot by Wolff, and a pair of drives by senior Matthew Guveiyian. Still, at the half, the Dawgs had a 10-point, 35–25 edge. The Garnets kept chipping away in the third. Although Haddon Heights only put 10 points on the board, Haddonfield managed just 7: 4 more points came off of Guveiyian buckets and sophomore Daire Roddy got in on the 3-point club. As the 4th quarter loomed, the Garnets were lurking, trailing by 7, 42–35.

The Garnets inbounded the ball to start the last 8 minutes of play. What looked like a pickoff by the Dawgs turned into a foul at the 7:31 mark. However, 11 seconds later, Wolff did steal the ball, feeding it to Mooney, who drove in the lane for 2, putting the Dawgs up by 9, 44–35. Heights would slash that down to 5 points on consecutive baskets, and with 6:20 on the clock, it was now a 2 possession game, with the Dawgs on top 44–39.

Wolff’s floater made it 46–39 with 6 minutes and change to go in the game, but Heights answered with a 2 and then after the Dawgs failed to score, nailed a big-time 3 to get to within 2, 46–44, with just under 4 minutes remaining. If I could read minds, I’m sure I would have been seeing a lot of “Oh, no, don’t tell me we’re going to blow another game in the last 4 minutes” types of comments, and I confess, I was having similar thoughts.

After a Heights timeout and play resumed, the Dawgs had another unsuccessful shot, but Wolff was fouled going after the rebound and he made both shots, to inch the Dawgs’ lead up to 4, 48–44, with 2:24 left in the game. What should have been an out-of-bounds call on the Garnets led to a foul on Haddonfield. Luckily, the Garnets missed both shots, and with 1:59 on the clock, it was still a 4-point Dawgs’ advantage.

In a very fluid play, Wolff set Leming up for a basket, giving the Dawgs a 6-point, 50–44, edge with 1:01 to go. Heights answered with a quick bucket at their end, and with 51.6 seconds left, the Garnets were within 4 again, 50–46. After a timeout, the Heights strategy became “foul the Dawgs to stop the action.” This happened four straight times until the Garnets reached their 7th foul, meaning Tom Mooney would have a 1+1 opportunity with 23.6 seconds on the clock. Mooney sank both shots, making it 52–46. That’s how the game ended. The Dawgs hadn’t shown their best offense in the second half, but their defense held of the Garnets’ 4th quarter run and took a little bite out of Mike Ricci’s pregame recognition. Mooney, who had 12 first half points, finished with 16. Leming added 12.

The win against Heights gave the Dawgs a very respectable, if not top-finishing, 13–3 Colonial Conference record for the season.

Next, the Dawgs hosted the Hornets of Pemberton Township for an oddly early Thursday game. Even for a 3:45 tipoff, there were a decent number of Dawgs fans in the stands. Unfortunately, they did not get to see a very pretty 32 minutes of high school hoops. The Pemberton players were very athletic and they used that athleticism to keep the Dawgs out of the paint. Of the 12 baskets the Dawgs made over 4 periods, only 2 were not from behind the arc. While there are plenty of Dawgs who can hit 3’s, they also rely on drives in the paint and under the basket or jump shots. The Hornets kept the Dawgs from penetrating and after a while, it seemed as if no one wanted to try to score unless someone was open for a 3. When the buzzer sounded to end the game, the Dawgs had gotten buzzed 36–56. I would not “bee” surprised if Pemberton makes a deep playoff run in Group 3, where they are the number 2 seed.

Saturday, the Lenape Indians came into Dawg country. After less than 2 minutes of action, the Dawgs were already behind 0–9 and because I am not a mind reader, I don’t know what anyone else rooting for Haddonfield was thinking, but I was pretty sure the game wasn’t going to get much better. I was very wrong. Instead of putting their figurative tails between their legs and letting the Indians run away with the game, the Dawgs got their fight back—their intensity, their determination, their confidence—and made a contest of it.

Matthew Guveiyian got the Dawgs going with a hard drive to the net to put the Dawgs on the board at the 4:46 mark. After the Indians did not score, the Dawgs got another 2 off a basket by Roddy that was set up by two nice passes. A 3 from Lenape made it 12–4, Indians, with 3:07 left in the quarter. The teams then exchanged 2-point field goals, with Haddonfield’s coming off a feed from Mooney to Guveiyian. A drive in the paint by Roddy with 1:50 on the clock got the Dawgs to within 6, 8–14, but at the other end, the Dawgs left the lane open and the Indians were back on top by 8, 16–8, with 1:20 to go.

Guveiyian, who had one of his best offensive and defensive games of the year, went hard into the paint again, and with less than a minute remaining in the 1st, the Dawgs were back to within 6, 10–16. And then on a 3 from senior Dante Del Duca, the Dawgs were within 3, 13–16, with 17 seconds on the board. That’s how the quarter ended, and from being down by 9 after 2 minutes, the Dawgs were back in the game, having closed the gap to 3.

In the 2nd quarter, both teams revved up the offense. The Indians scored 20, but the Dawgs were right behind them with 19. Guveiyian stayed hot. His 3 tied the game at 16 as the 2nd quarter started. When Lenape replied with a 2, Mooney’s 2 tied it again at 18. Leming’s first 3 of the game put the Dawgs up 21–18, with 5:27 left in the half. The Dawg fans were on their feet, cheering.

The lead didn’t last, as Lenape got 2 from the foul line and then hit a 3 to retake the lead, 23–21, with 4:27 on the clock. But a 3 from Mooney tipped the advantage back to the Dawgs, 24–23. The lead shifted by 1 again when Lenape scored another bucket. Guveiyian’s second trey of the quarter made it 27–25, Haddonfield, with 2:42 left in the half. An Indian shot from behind the arc rolled in and out, but after the Dawgs’ shot also missed, Lenape did make a 3 to go back on top by 1. After another scoreless trip down to their basket, the Dawgs committed a shooting foul. Lenape made both shots, and with 1:51 showing on the clock, were now ahead by 3, 30–27.

A resounding slam by Guveiyian got the Dawgs back to within 1, 29–20, but 2 more foul shots from the Indians made it a 3-point game again, with 1:33 on the clock. This time it was a 3 from Leming that knotted the game at 32 with 57 seconds to go in the half. In those 57 seconds, Lenape managed to get one bucket off an offensive rebound and closed out the half with a basket to go back up by 4, 36–32.

The 3rd quarter was more of the same back and forth. The Dawgs only scored 3 baskets from the field—all were from behind the arc by Leming—plus a foul shot by Wolff. But the Dawgs held the Indians to 9 points, so going into the 4th quarter, the Dawgs were still in the hunt, down by 3, 42–45. Lenape scored the first basket to start the last 8 minutes of play, but Leming’s 3 bounded off the rim and in to get the Dawgs to within 2, 45–47, with 5:52 left in the game.

After a pickoff by Wolff, the Dawgs missed a chance to tie it and then Lenape scored to push their lead back to 4, 49–45. Guveiyian answered with a 3, and the Dawgs were now within 1, 48–49, with 4:40 on the board. That was as close as the Dawgs would get the rest of the game. Their shots stopped dropping, and the Indians went on a run, scoring 10 unanswered points to take control of the game. With 2 and change to go, Lenape was now up by 11, 59–48. Mooney would get the Dawgs’ last 2 baskets of the game, with a 3 and then a 2, but when the buzzer sounded, the Indians had prevailed, winning by 12, 65–53. The Matts, Guveiyian and Leming, finished with 18 each.

Somehow, this lost seemed like a step in the right direction for the team, which had been floundering a bit the last few weeks. I heard several longtime fans, some of whom played for the Dawgs way back in the day, talking afterwards, and everyone felt like the Dawgs had gotten some of their bark back. Here’s hoping that leads to wins this coming week to close out the regular season.

Up first is BCIT Westampton on Tuesday night, 2/22, at home. This is Senior Night, so please come out to cheer on our graduating players: Sean Beane, Jon Bucci, Dante Del Duca, Matthew Guveiyian, Matt Leming, Tom Mooney, Christian Raymond, Evan Rohlfing, and Carson Wolff. Game time is 7 p.m. Then, Thursday, 2/24, also at 7, the Dragons of Kingsway Regional High School will be no doubt fired up to go up against the Dawgs. 

Looking ahead, the South Jersey Group 2 playoffs begin on Monday, 2/28. As the number 3 seed behind #1 Camden and #2 Sterling (booo! Oops. Did I type that out loud?), Haddonfield will host Lower Cape May County at 7 p.m. Come out at 5, though, to root on the girls, who are the 8th seed, and taking on Point Pleasant Boro, the 9th seed.