CHATHAM, NJ -- The Chatham boys basketball team played like it had nothing to lose in the season finale on Friday night and that may have been the reason it scored a season-high 75 points in breaking a three-game skid.
The Cougars pushed the ball at every opportunity to outrun Hillside, 75-66, and left the court with smiles after playing 13 games in the 2021 season shortened by the pandemic.
"Getting rebounds and pushing it in transition helped us get the lead," Chatham sophomore Ryan Leskauskas said. "It was a weird season. We shut down for two weeks. It was good for us to grow as a team and get more team chemistry. I feel like next year will be even better. As a team, we're going to come back stronger, especially with a full season."
Chatham (4-9) ended with four players scoring in double figures, led by the 6-3 Leskauskas with a career-high 24 points. Junior guard Cam Rooney scored 19 points, senior guard Jack Casano-Boris had 15 points and senior guard James Platek came in with 10 points for the Cougars.
"It was so important to win this game," Chatham coach Dave Shellenhamer said. "In the last couple games, we've been playing better, but we were giving it up at the end. If there was one of three games to win, it might as well be the last one. It gets the seniors out on a high note and gives us a better taste in our mouth about the whole season in general.
"It was more of an open kind of game. We knew as long as we held onto the ball and shared it, we were going to get good looks. There were plays that we made where we made extra passes to get shots."
Leskauskas, Jack Casano-Boris and Rooney combined to score 58 points
Hillside held a 44-39 lead in the third quarter when Chatham put together a 13-0 run, ignited by a Platek 3-pointer. Rooney followed with two free throws and a basket before Leskauskas dropped in a 3-pointer. Casano-Boris culminated the streak with a reverse layup as he was fouled (see below). He made the bonus free throw for the three-point play that staked the Cougars to a 52-44 advantage with 3:01 left in the period.
The Cougars closed out their 24-point third quarter with a 3-pointer from the top of the key by Rooney (see below) with 57 seconds left and a Casano-Boris layup off a Rooney feed with 13 seconds to go, making it a 57-47 lead heading into the fourth.
In the final quarter, Hillside closed the gap to 61-58 with a five-point spurt but Rooney interrupted with a pull-up jumper (see below). Rooney then cleared a defensive board and fed Casano-Boris for a fast-break layup. Leskauskas then blocked a shot and turned it into a transition basket (see below) to make it six straight points and a 67-58 lead with 2:15 left.
Chatham sealed the game by sinking eight of 10 free throws over the final 1:18, with Leskauskas making 4 of 4 and Rooney 3 of 4.
Shellenhamer said he enjoyed his role as the head coach filling in for Todd Ervin, who will return with 499 career wins next season after taking a leave of absence because of the pandemic.
"I had fun," Shellenhamer said. "Even after a tough loss, they came back the next day ready to work. It was a good group."
Shellenhamer elevated freshman Bryce Kania to the varsity early on when there was a roster opening because of a virus case and the 6-3 forward wound up starting the final three games of the season.
"Some of the younger guys got some good experience and at the lower levels there is a lot of talent there," Shellhamer said. "(Kania) was there the whole time. We moved him along. We tried to hold him as long as we could and moved him up at the right time. He took off the last couple games there for us."
COUGAR NOTES: The 75 points were the most scored by Chatham since its 92-80 win vs. Hanover Park on Jan. 6, 2020 ... Leskauskas went 6 for 6 from the line to lead Chatham, which was 14-for-22 overall in free throws ... Hillside made 8 of 16 foul shots ... Hillside (6-8) hit nine 3-pointers in the game, three by Elijah Fletcher, who led the Comets with 22 points ... the Cougars made seven 3-pointers, two apiece by Leskauskas and James Platek ... Cougar freshman Bryce Kania contributed two blocks and five points ... Rooney finished the season with 177 points for a team-leading 13.6 ppg. The junior guard had four games of 20 points or more and two with 19 points. He led the Cougars with 21 3-pointers made, followed by Leskauskas with 18 ... Rooney had a streak of 17 straight free throws made during the year ... Leskauskas averaged 12.3 ppg., with his 24 points capping a run of seven straight games of scoring in double-digits. The 24 points by Leskauskas were the most scored by a Cougar this season, Rooney had a 23-point game ... Casano-Boris averaged 9.2 ppg.