By Ryan Fennell
Rumson – Defensively, it worked.
The Bulldogs’ defensive switch to a 2-3 zone was effective in containing Raritan’s big men, 6’8” senior Mike Aaman and 6’6” senior Connor Flynn, limiting both to only 4 points each in the first half and 13 and 6, respectively, for the game.
However, Rumson’s offense struggled from the field, sinking only 15 field goals with none dropping from behind the arc and fell, 48-39, to the defending Shore Conference Champion Rockets on Tuesday.
Rumson came out fast and pushed the ball up and down the court and was able to get several open looks at the basket, but the shots repeatedly rattled off the rim. The pace caught Raritan off guard and had more than a pair of free throws from J.J. Conklin fallen for the Bulldogs in first quarter, it would’ve been a different game.
Instead, a jumper by Flynn and a three-pointer from Marc Pizanie gave Raritan a 5-2 lead at the end of the first and the Rockets wouldn’t relinquish the lead the rest of the game.
“They went to a zone, which normally they don’t and I think our guys were settling for some outside shots,” said Raritan head coach Denis Caruano. “With our two big kids (Aaman and Flynn) that’s not really our forte.
“Off of the misses they got a lot on transition, which was probably part of the game plan in taking away our height.”
“We figured if we moved the ball up the court quick and push the pace a little, we might get some easy baskets,” Rumson-Fair Haven head coach Chris Champeau said. “On the other end we wanted to zone them. Defensively, I thought it worked.”
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the shots just would not drop.
“It was like Groundhog’s Day,” Champeau said. “It was the same thing against them in the Shore Conference Tournament [last year] where we had wide open looks and they just weren’t falling. There’s nothing you can do about it.
“We’ll just go back to work and hope we play them again in the tournament.”
With Rumson’s shots not finding the bottom of the net and Raritan unable to establish its inside game, the Rockets held a slim 5-point lead at the half.
Conklin opened the second half scoring with a jumpshot to cut Raritan’s lead to three but Aaman knocked one down from behind the three-point line to put the Rockets up six.
Rumson’s Jack Curran pulled the Bulldogs within one at 22-21 after a jumper and a three-point play with 2:19 left in the third but a jumper by Raritan’s Tyler Gurczeski and another three from Pizanie quickly put the Rockets back up by six.
Rumson’s Jack Donnelly netted his first basket of the game at the end of the third to cut the lead to four at 27-23, heading into the final quarter.
But Raritan quickly extended the lead to 7 on a three-pointer from Cody Reguiero to open the fourth.
“Their other guys stepped up,” Champeau said. “I felt we did a good job on [Aaman] but they had their other guys knock down some mid-range shots that I wasn’t counting on.”
Donnelly had a game high 14 points all coming in the second half and lead a Bulldog surge in the fourth quarter that saw Rumson pull within three with 4:10 remaining.
After a put back off a rebound by Gurczeski made it 32-25, Donnelly scored the next six points for Rumson on a flurry of fast breaks triggered by Bulldogs’ steals near half court. Conklin then hit one of two foul shots to pull within two at 34-32 with just over three minutes to play.
But a pair of key offensive rebounds put back for scores by Aaman, the second inducing a foul and a three point play, put the Rockets up 40-33 with just over two minutes to play.
Raritan was able to knock down 7 of 11 from the line in the final minutes to secure the win.
Rumson fell to 8-4 overall and 4-3 in the division behind Holmdel and Raritan who are tied for first place in the A Central at 7-1. Raritan is 9-5 overall on the year.