River Dell survives, edges Kinnelon
There is often something to be said--good and obviously not-so good--about the .500 team in the state tournament.
It has weathered enough storms to win, say, 12 or 13 games by the opening round, and it also has created its share of storms over the long winter.
The .500 club has learned how to bounce back from adversity, though not often enough to forget what it feels like to finish on the wrong side of it.
Sixth-seeded River Dell knows well the peaks and valleys of such a season, so was seemingly at ease-- and yet also feisty throughout--during its up-and-down battle against 11th-seeded Kinnelon in the first round of the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 1, Group 2 tournament Tuesday night in Oradell.
Tim Barnes scored 14 points and played splendid defense down the stretch and Sean Boland and Ryan Duran turned in strong second halves for the Golden Hawks, who opened the game with a six-point run, fell behind by 10 at the half and reeled off the final 18 points of the game to post a 47-35 win.
"We never give up," Boland said. The 6-5 senior scored all of his eight points in the second half and closed with seven rebounds and three blocks. Barnes, a 6-3 junior, collected eight rebounds and four blocks, three in the fourth quarter, and Duran scored seven of his nine points and had four of his six assists to help fuel River Dell's 27-5 second half and 14-0 fourth period.
"Whatever you do, just play hard. That's what we try to do," Boland said. "Your shots may not fall, but just fight hard and bounce back when they don't fall."
River Dell (13-12) advances to the quarterfinals Thursday night against third-seeded Mountain Lakes (18-6) in Mountain Lakes.
The Golden Hawks (13-12) had a difficult time making shots fall in the second quarter (2 of 13 from the floor) after opening up the game in such promising fashion. Barnes knocked down his squad's first eight points and John Budka and Duran added two apiece to help build a 12-6 lead in the first six minutes.
Kinnelon (11-14) closed the first quarter with an 8-2 spurt (Junior guard Sean Robbins scored five) and seized control of the tempo with a 13-3 run in the first seven minutes of the second quarter for a 27-17 advantage. Senior forward Chris Villante popped in all of his seven points in the second.
Villante had several open shots in the period, as did junior guard Evan Argiriou, and that accessibility was the subject most emphasized by River Dell head coach Ronnie Van Saders at halftime.
"Coach Van Saders basically said make sure you contest, get a hand in a face," Boland said. "If you can't block it, as least be in his eyes so he can't get a good look at the basket. We had to get closer to the shooters because that's where they started to beat us in the first half."
River Dell's defense improved significantly early in the second half, though, Kinnelon still led by six points, 35-29, after a tough putback by Robbins (he finished with 16 points) with 2:57 to go in the period. But the tide swiftly changed when steals by Ben Orth and Barnes led to consecutive baskets in the last 1:34 to cut the Golden Hawks' deficit to 35-33.
"It was huge. It gave us all the momentum in the world," Barnes said. "We really took that and rode it the rest of the game."
River Dell tied the contest at 35-35 on a free throw by Boland with 5:11 to go in the game and forged a two-point lead 1:29 later when Duran dribbled into the lane and skipped a pass to Boland for a layup.
The Golden Hawks had missed their first four shots of the fourth, but sank three of the next four and were 5 of 11 from the foul line. Kinnelon was 0 for 12 from the field in that last quarter and never made it to the stripe.
"We just tightened a little bit, we boxed out, we played better team defense," Barnes said. "And we also got Seanny (Boland) and Ryan (Duran) the ball in the second half."
River Dell had lost four of its last five regular-season games, so was going to have to rely upon defense and smarts to build momentum and not rely expressly on the offense. That was fine by Boland and his pals.
"We pride ourselves on our defense," he said. "That's where we practice the most. It's something we all enjoy. We love playing hard and we're a little bit scrappy. We get fired up as much on defense as we do on offense."
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS