By Andy Loigu
What a way to honor the memory of Evan Murray.
Instead of wearing their own names on the backs of their jerseys, the members of the Warren Hills boys basketball team chose to wear Murray’s name instead this season.
Then, for the first time ever, Warren Hills won a sectional championship in boys’ basketball on March 8. The Blue Streaks had to win back-to-back road games against the top two seeds in the section to get it done.
In the championship game at Chatham (who finished their season 28-2), Warren Hills claimed the title after two overtimes by a 52-46 final score. Warren Hills trailed 42-37 in the first overtime, but a three-point bomb by Buster Bamford and a driving layup by Johnny Bamford tied the score and forced a second overtime.
Funot Woldetnsai canned a three to put Warren Hills in front to start the second overtime and Johnny Bamford added four points to give the Blue Streaks their biggest lead at 50-43.
Now 21-6, North 2 Group 3 champion Warren Hills advanced to the state semifinal to play Teaneck. The game is scheduled for Thursday, March 10, at East Orange High School.
With 10 points in the game, Anthony Veneziano went over the 1,000 career point milestone. Johnny Bamford led all scorers with 20 and Woldetnsai scored 15, including four big baskets from three-point range.
Warren Hills trailed 17-6 after the first period, but clawed its way back into the game, in a hostile environment.
To get to the section final, Warren Hills won 48-40 at second seeded Somerville on March 4.
Many people in Warren County, who may not have had the chance to experience basketball in other parts of the state, may not appreciate how hard it is to win a sectional title in boys’ basketball.
Trust me, it is hard. It takes everything you’ve got, and then some.
Warren Hills 51 Voorhees 41
The Blue Streaks played their final home game in the quarterfinals and sent the crowd home happy with a trademark come-from-behind win on March 2.
The visiting Vikings led 27-22 at the half, but with the urgency of having to win or turn in the uniforms, the Blue Streaks took command in the second half, led by their senior guard and center tandem of 1,000 career points scorers Johnny Bamford and Veneziano, who accounted for 25 of the home team’s 29 second-half points, including all 17 in period four.
Bamford hit a jumper coming off a screen to put the Streaks in front 32-31. The Warren Hills 1-3-1 press then produced the visitors’ 10th turnover of the game and the home team streaked to a fast break, closing the third period with a 34-31 advantage.
Bamford canned a three-pointer and Veneziano scored a backdoor layup to give Warren Hills a 41-34 lead as the game came down to the final two minutes. A put-back by Veneziano and four straight free throws by Bamford put the game on ice.
“We’re a second half team,” said Bamford. “When we were cold shooting in the first half, we stayed close by the defense forcing turnovers. With the crowd cheering us on, we had more heart and energy in the second half. It was do or die.”
Coach Stan Kubbishun praised Veneziano’s efforts. “Anthony did it inside and outside, got the big rebounds and was a great leader when we needed somebody to step up,” he said. “Voorhees had a tough inside game and we needed Anthony to take charge in the paint.”
Veneziano scored a game-high 20 points, pulled down 10 rebounds, blocked three shots and made a steal in the game. Bamford, with penetration and perimeter shots, scored 15.
It was the third time Warren Hills defeated division rival Voorhees, who came into the game with wins in 11 of their previous 16 games. “It’s never easy to beat a good team three times in a season,” Kubbishun noted. “They know our strengths and made adjustments.”
Kubbishun now has the distinction of coaching Warren Hills to sectional championships in both girls’ basketball (in 1997) and boys’ basketball. In this columnist’s opinion, that is legendary.
Hackettstown bows in semifinal
The Hackettstown Tigers reached the semifinal in North 2 Group 2 and finished a fine boys’ basketball season with a 20-8 record.
As the number one seed, they hosted Newark Central on March 5 and lost a competitive 57-55 game. The Tigers outscored the visitors 23-17 in the final period to make it a contest. Matt Arcona led the Tigers with 18 points.
Against a running “city team,” the Tigers slowed the tempo of the game down for the first three periods but fell behind because they had no answers for Central’s strong inside game.
Hackettstown 78 Madison 41
The Tigers were led by James Britt with 19 points and Jelani Awai and Ryan Gallagher added 13 and 12 respectively, as the top seeded Tigers blew away 16th seeded Madison on March 1 in the first round.
Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.