By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
MEDFORD — Egg Harbor Township boys basketball coach Cameron Bell knew that if ever there was a year for his team to make a run to a South Jersey Group 4 championship, this was it. His five starters were loaded with talent and he had some of the best guards in South Jersey in guys such as Carlos Lopez, D.J. Germann and Isaiah Glenn.
It turns out Lenape is pretty talented, too.
The host Indians, the No. 2 seed in the sectional tournament, blitzed No. 3 EHT with an 8-0 run in the third quarter that turned a 35-34 deficit into a 42-35 lead, and Lenape never looked back, cruising to a 66-52 victory. Lenape takes on No. 1 Cherry Hill East, a winner over fourth-seeded Cherokee, on Monday in the sectional championship game.
“We weren’t making shots, and they ramped it up on the offensive end. You can’t come down, miss a shot and then give up a bucket. They went on an 8-0 run — we couldn’t make a basket. And if we can’t score, we can’t win, it’s as simple as that. You guys saw us play all year, if we can’t score, we can’t win,” Bell said. “It hurts. I thought we could do it. It hurts, that’s all I can say. Yes, we had a really good season if you put it in perspective, but that’s all stuff that comes tomorrow. Not today. Not right now.”
Egg Harbor Township was able to bottle up Rutgers University recruit Derek Simpson for the most part, as the guard scored just seven points in the first half and finished with 14, but it was the inside presence of guys like Tayvon Gaither and Aidan Anderson that proved to be the difference, especially in the second half. Gaither had just seven points in the first half but was an absolute beast in the second half, racking up 14 points and controlling the paint. He also finished with 10 rebounds.
And Anderson chipped in 21 points as well, including 13 in the first half.
EHT tied the game, 31-31, coming out of halftime on a 3-pointer by Glenn, a senior guard, and a steal and layup by junior point guard Germann put the Eagles up 35-34. But the next several minutes belonged to Lenape, as Tye Dorset scored on a runout layup after a blocked shot on the defensive end, giving the Indians a 40-35 lead with four minutes left in the third quarter.
Still, the Eagles were down by just five, 47-42, entering the fourth quarter, and trailed just 47-44 after a driving layup from Lopez, who finished with a team-high 16 points and scored in a variety of ways, showing off his skills as one of the top players in the state.
With 6:19 to go, however, Lenape started taking control when Gaither completed an old-fashioned 3-point play to put the Indians up 50-44. A minute later, Anderson scored in transition to push Lenape’s lead to 54-44.
In the waning moments, Bell subbed out for Germann and Jay-Nelly Reyes, both junior guards, and had a message for them.
“I said to them, ‘look, when we’re back here again — when everybody writes us off again because Carlos is gone, A.C. (Anthony Colon) is gone, Isaiah is gone — when they write us off and we’re back here again, it’s going to be because of you two. It will be because of the heart that you two have.’ That’s why I say you never stop fighting, you never stop playing,” Bell said.
EHT finished up one of its best seasons in school history with a 23-4 record, its only losses coming against Westfield, Moorestown, Mainland in the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament, and Lenape. Bell said it’s going to be tough saying goodbye to a group of seniors that have helped turned the Eagles into an annual contender in Group 4 South.
“These seniors are everything,” Bell said. “I don’t have enough positive adjectives for Carlos Lopez. Even though today wasn’t his best day, even in his misses you saw how good of a basketball player he is, and we’re going to miss him. And Anthony Colon, for him to come back from Florida to be with his boys, for it to end like this — I hurt for those seniors.”
What’s next: No. 2 Lenape at No. 1 Cherry Hill East on Monday for the South Jersey Group 4 championship, time TBD. EHT’s season is complete.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays