MEDFORD — Ty Dorset said he wasn’t thinking about scoring his 1,000th career point on Thursday night at home against Cherokee. That wasn’t an excuse he was willing to use to explain the Indians’ terrible first half in which they scored just 11 points and trailed by nine at halftime.
But Lenape coach Matt Wolf said when you’re that close, needing just a handful of points, how can that not be in the back of your mind?
Dorset scored just five points in the first half, but exploded for 17 in the second half to lead Lenape to a rousing, 48-38 come-from-behind win that put the Indians atop the Olympic American standings — for now. Eastern Regional is just a half-game behind Lenape. Dorset, a senior guard, scored his 1,000th point on a free throw with 2:40 left in the third quarter, pulling Lenape to within 30-21. From there, everything changed as Lenape picked up its defensive intensity and shut the Chiefs down, outscoring Cherokee 27-8 the rest of the way.
“For me, it’s a team award. Yes, I’m making shots, but my teammates are getting me the ball. It’s a pretty cool feeling,” Dorset. “We trust our work, at the end of the day. That’s a really good team out there and coach told us we had to be prepared — but we weren’t. It came down to us getting stops and getting steals because that changes the dynamic of the game for us. Their (slow-down) style is tough for us, especially if we’re not making shots. It came down to making shots. But they are a good team and they know what works for us and what doesn’t.”
“We talked to him before the game and said, ‘just play your game and don’t think about (1,000 points).’ But it’s impossible not to think about that,” Wolf said. “He’s such a good player. Once he got his 1,000th it was a weight lifted off us and we could just go out there and play. As he goes, we go.”
Lenape (13-3, 4-0 Olympic American) made a frantic run at the end of the third quarter to finally close a gap that had been as much as 18-6 early on. Caleb Lundy, a 6-foot-1 freshman, scored off a steal and completed a traditional 3-point play to shave Cherokee’s lead to 30-25, and less than a minute later Myles Primas scored off another steal to get the Indians to within 30-27.
“We said (at halftime) that we had to do this as a team. We had to start talking on defense, jumping to the basketball. We were gambling because we weren’t in the right spots defensively. And when you gamble, it can lead to a split-and-kick-3 or a layup,” Wolf said. “We had to get in the right spots to defend. Offensively, our shots weren’t falling, but our shot selection wasn’t good. We love to press, and that’s something that gets us going, but you have to make shots in order to press. Once we got a few to go, we were able to get into our press and that really changed the game (in the second half).
“Our bench was enormous,” he added. “We had three guys come off the bench tonight — Caleb Lundy, Mehki Carter and Nolan Barnes — who I thought changed the game with their energy. When you have three guys who can come off the bench and give that kind of spark, that’s a big thing for us.”
Lundy had the best game of his young career, scoring 14 points, including a layup off a steal that got Lenape to within 30-29. Early in the fourth quarter, Lundy nailed a 3-pointer that put Lenape ahead for the first time at 33-30. Cherokee (10-7, 1-4 Olympic American) fought back, taking a 34-33 lead on a jumper by Judd Holt, who had a team-high 16 points. But Lenape dominated the final four minutes, outscoring the Chiefs 15-4 down the stretch.
Dorset hit a jumper to give Lenape a 37-34 lead with 2:50 remaining, then he nailed a three with 2:14 to go to put the Indians up 40-35. Cherokee got to within 40-38 on a 3-pointer by Holt but the Chiefs were held scoreless in the final two minutes.
“He’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around,” Wolf said of Dorset, who is averaging nearly 20 points per game. “Even if he’s having a bad game, he’s going to pump everybody up and lean on his teammates. He’s such a smart, great kid. He’s a coach’s dream, in every aspect.”
Cherokee’s plan was to slow the game down by dragging out its offensive possessions, and the plan worked beautifully in the first half as the Chiefs raced out to an 11-4 first-quarter lead and led by as many as 12 points before Lenape started chipping away late in the first half.
“We do a drill in practice where you have to get three stops in a row in order to come off the floor. There are times in practice where we’ll have a group of four guys playing defense for nine straight minutes. The only way to get off the floor is to get three stops of take a charge, so we prepare for games like this. It’s a credit to Cherokee, they are well coached and it benefited them to slow the game down, and they were able to do it,” Wolf said. “We can play a whole bunch of different styles, but you have to make some shots. You can’t get into your defensive press if you can’t make shots.”
Both Wolf and Dorset said the Indians have yet to really put it all together in one game, but they’re hoping that time is coming in February.
“This is a huge confidence booster. It shows we can play with anyone, play against any style and still come out with a win,” Dorset said. “I think we’re in midseason form, but coach Wolf, at every practice, is telling us how much better we can get. We have yet to put together a full, 32-minute game, and that’s what we’re striving for.”
“We want to win the division and right now we’re in the lead, but there are other teams that want it pretty badly. We have the county tournament coming up and we lost in the finals last year, so we’d like to change that, and we have the state tournament coming up where we lost in the sectional final last year. We’d like to do better this year,” Wolf added. “It’s not going to be easy, but we play a tough schedule to prepare ourselves. Hitting our stride near the end is what we want to do. We’ve played games of 24 minutes, 28 minutes, but we haven’t played 32 minutes of basketball the way we know how. When we do, we’re going to be tough to beat.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Lenape takes on St. Augustine Prep on Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Jeff Coney Classic at Rancocas Valley High. Cherokee faces Ewing on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Jeff Coney Classic.
Sully, as he’s known throughout South Jersey, began his newspaper career in 1995 and has worked for some of New Jersey’s top papers, including The Asbury Park Press and Press of Atlantic City, as a writer and editor. He’s earned several New Jersey Press Association awards and continues to produce high quality reporting, writing and photography.
A native of Ocean County, Sully played high school baseball at Lacey Township High and college baseball at Pfeiffer University in North Carolina. After a successful 15-year career in the newspaper business, Sully launched Glory Days Magazine in 2013 and for nearly a decade has been bringing fans outstanding and insightful coverage of high school sports throughout South Jersey.